Philippines: Public challenge to investigate vague and hidden budget Items

Leonor Magtolis Briones. (Photo:
Philippine Rural Reconstruction

Social Watch Philippines and Alternative Budget Initiative are set to probe into President Benigno Aquino III’s proposed budget items for 2013 that are still unclear or not visible. “We have to be more vigilant as the 2.006 trillion pesos [47.74 billion US dollars] proposed 2013 appropriations is the first budget proposal to exceed the two-trillion pesos mark,” explained former national treasurer and Social Watch Philippines lead convenor Leonor Magtolis Briones.

“This is 10.5 percent higher than 2012 budget and almost 21.9 percent higher than in 2011. More than half of the budget continues to escape scrutiny because of the special purpose funds, automatic appropriations and unprogrammed funds,” she said.

Social Watch Philippines and Alternative Budget Initiative called on the administration to explain the following budget items under the Special Purpose Funds:

■ Sudden spike of the Retirement Benefits Fund from 34.4 billion pesos (some 819 million US dollars) in 2012 to 98.7 billion pesos (some 2.35 billion US dollars) for 2013. Have significant number of government employees, civil servants and military personnel retired all at the same time? What is the rationale for this?

■ What is the rationale for the 22.4 billion pesos (533.7 million US dollars) Priority Social and Economic Projects Fund in 2013 when there is a 56 billion pesos (1.3 billion US dollars) budget for the Department of Social Welfare and Development, of which around 48 billion pesos (1.14 billion US dollars) go to Conditional Cash Transfers?

■ For 2011-2013 budgets, why do we have a budget for Budgetary Support to Government Owned and Controlled Corporations when there is already an allocation for Budgetary Support to Government Corporations?

■ What is the use of the Debt Management Program fund when we already have allocation for Debt Service/Burden?

The group is also calling for an explanation on how the 22.4 billion pesos (533.7 million US dollars) budget for “Priority Social and Economic Projects Fund” – which is a new budget item – will be utilized.

“Aside from these special purpose funds, the public needs also to be informed of the 117,548,371,000 pesos proposed budget for unprogrammed funds for 2013. When approved, this will be included in the General Appropriations Act,” Briones said.

Alternative Budget Initiative and Social Watch Philippines also alerted the public to guard budget items that does not reflect the entire picture such as “Personal Services” which may only reflect salaries of regular government employees and not include fees for contractuals, casuals, project staff, as well as consultants; or “debt service” which is reflected in the budget but is equivalent only to interest payments and does not include payment for principal.

“The administration owes it to the people to explain every single centavo [cent] because government money is raised from taxes contributed by citizens, including the poorest of the poor,” Briones said. “It is our duty as Filipino citizens to investigate how public funds are being managed by the government. Likewise, it is the moral obligation of the administration to be very transparent on where it puts people’s money,” she added.

Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement: