President Benigno Aquino 3rd was stunned and blew his top yesterday over his – erstwhile? – ally, former Senator Panfilo Lacson’s revelations that the 2015 Budget has a huge component of P424 billion in so-called “lump-sum appropriations.”
These are the kinds of nearly discretionary funds Aquino and his camp could easily use to build up political mercenary support and to siphon off funds into their campaign kitty for 2016.
What got Aquino’s goat was the fact that he had thought Lacson to be an ally. He appointed the former senator last year as head of the post-typhoon Yolanda Rehabilitation Program, which, however, proved to be useless as Lacson had no authority at all over agencies that could rebuild the typhoon-devastated areas.
Some observers think that Lacson may be simply nudging Aquino to consider him as his vice presidential – or even presidential – candidate. Indeed, newspaper ads had come out over the past month urging him to run, portraying him as “incorruptible” since only he and Senator Joker Arroyo had never touched their pork-barrel allocations.
On the other hand, the more credible analysis is that the political landscape is undergoing a tectonic movement: Aquino’s political legitimacy and popularity have eroded so much that his allies are jumping off his sinking ship, and the way to seek mass support is, at this stage, to expose the corruption of the Yellow Regime.
Lacson also may have realized that having rejected the pork barrel funds throughout his 12 years in the Senate, he should make it his crusade to stop this or any administration from exploiting the funds for corrupt political patronage.
Lacson’s accusations – made in a speech the other day, significantly before the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants – aren’t off-the-cuff allegations made hastily.
He reported that he, along with a team that he had organized, had been scrutinizing the 2015 General Appropriations Act with a fine-tooth comb. The reason for this, he said, was that he had adopted as his “personal advocacy” his campaign for “the equitable distribution of the local budget to local government units.”
In the course of his investigations, Lacson said, he and his team were shocked to find out – on the basis of actual budget documents – that what was supposed to be a new system for authorizing and tightly monitoring budget releases (called the Unified Accounts Code Structure) was, instead, used to convert itemized accounts into “lump-sum” accounts, whose utilization would be at the discretion of the department secretary.
Discretion on how money is spent
“Lump-sum” budgets in effect, give the administration discretion on where and how to spend taxpayers’ money, practically nullifying the power of Congress to determine how funds are to be used.
For instance, the General Appropriations Act would specify the amounts that could be used for each region for farm-to-market roads. According to Lacson, Aquino’s Administration had managed to convert these into a lump-sum budget, with the department secretary deciding which farm-to-market roads in the country should be funded by his agency.
Lacson said he and his team – “so far,” he emphasized – found lump-sum appropriations in the following departments: Social Welfare and Development, P102.6 billion; Education, P80.7 billion; Interior and Local Government, P80.7 billion; Health, P75.4 billion; National Defense, P66.4 billion; Agriculture, P29.9 billion; Public Works and Highways, P11.4 billion; Transportation and Communications, P11.4 billion; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, P6.1 billion.
The National Irrigation Authority was also found, according to Lacson, of having P13 billion in a lump-sum budget, while the Philippine National Police had P6.7 billion.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda had responded to Lacson’s accusations by ridiculing these as “doomsday assertions,” a slip-of-the-tongue apparently as the allegations could spell doom for his boss’s political support.
Lacierda also tried to make the accusations appear stupid by claiming that the allegations are over the Special Purpose Funds intended for the National Risk Reduction Funds, which “by the nature of these budget items, cannot foretell calamities.”
Lacson, however, was clearly not referring to these Special Purpose Funds, and had not even mentioned these. “I have only touched so far on the regular budget of 11 out of 21 major line agencies and I already discovered P424B in lump-sum appropriations,“ he informed me through e-mail.
Lacson also said: “Apparently, there is a conspiracy between the executive and legislative offices to initially park lump-sum appropriations in the National Expenditure Program without intending to use the funds for the recommended purpose/s, but actually for the selected legislators to realign their identified PAPs (programs, activities and projects), hence they became pork under the 2015 GAA. We’ve seen this pattern in at least 2 agencies already.”
Supreme Court petition
“I plan to file a Petition for Prohibition with the Supreme Court and I’m confident I will get a favorable ruling against these provisions in the 2015 GAA,” he said in his email.
Lacson also had not even touched on the Aquino government’s “Pork Barrel 2.0,” its new version called the Bottom-Up Budgeting Projects. These total P20.9 billion this year, increasing from P20 billion in 2014, four times the P5 billion budget when it was called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in 2010, the last budget of President Macapagal-Arroyo.
The Aquino Administration has even imposed an information blackout on the utilization of its 2015 pork barrel.
Ever since Arroyo’s term, and until 2013, pork-barrel releases have been reported on the budget department’s website. It was such data posted on its website that, in fact, I used to show that PDAF money was released just before or during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona – obviously bribes for Congress to file the impeachment complaint and for the senators to find him guilty.
It would, indeed, be political doomsday, to borrow Lacierda’s term, if the Supreme Court upholds Lacson’s petition – and a similar one earlier with the same allegations – that the 2015 Budget defies the Court’s 2014 decisions that the pork-barrel system and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are unconstitutional and illegal.
Without its bribes to Congress through pork barrel funds, merely called differently, and without the money skimmed from these, Aquino’s political support would collapse, and his party would have zero chances of winning the 2016 presidential contest.
That’s why Aquino has been pulling his hair in rage over Lacson’s revelations.