SWP Dares Budget Bicam: Get Rid of Pork in 2019 Budget; Open the Bicam Process to the Public | SWP Press Release 23 Jan 2019
SOCIALWATCH PHILS·WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 23, 2019
As the Senate approved its version of the P3.757 trillion 2019 budget bill on third and final reading on Monday, budget group Social Watch Philippines (SWP) renews its call against pork barrel in any form or scheme in the national budget. “All eyes are now on the House and the Senate which will form the Bicameral Conference Committee (Bicam) on the budget. We hope that a reconciled General Appropriations Bill (GAB) will be passed devoid of pork.”
In 2013, the Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) declared unconstitutional the significant role of legislators in budget execution, which is a function of the Executive branch. “This is because in the past, lawmakers were able to determine specific projects for their districts and identify the contractors and suppliers for project implementation,” SWP observed. This process was widely seen as a source of corruption because of the kickbacks received by legislators.
Social Watch Philippines explained that in order to get around the SC decision on PDAF, a current practice by many legislators is to ‘park’ their pet projects with implementing agencies during budget preparation or congressional hearings on the budget. By 'parking', is meant the practice where lawmakers reserve a portion of the national budget within a specific agency under a particular budget item which is used as a cover for the pet projects of legislators. According to SWP, “Just like a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the practice of parking projects within agencies is still pork”. SWP noted that the 2019 budget may even be more vulnerable to this scenario because of the election season.
Furthermore, SWP bewailed the fact that a number of legislators tend to scrutinize and amend agency budgets with regard to district or local interests, without exerting sufficient attention to the larger issues of national importance like the debt burden and inflation. Budget items with little to no details or those with broad implications such as debt servicing are being approved without question and not usually discussed thoroughly. “Legislators should assert their power over the purse, but sometimes their preoccupation with pork detracts them from doing this”, SWP stressed.
Congress should provide appropriate allocation for programs, projects and activities which are proposed by the Executive that are truly needed, with corresponding line item and necessary provisions for proper utilization. For example, with the Department of Education’s proposed budget of P54 million for child protection having been cut by about P46-million at the executive level, Social Watch Philippines appealed to the Bicam to act swiftly and restore the slashed budget for child protection and anti-bullying measures when they deliberate on the proposed 2019 budget.
Finally, SWP also dared Congress to open to the public the Bicam meetings on the 2019 budget, echoing Sen. Panfilo Lacson on this matter. “This way, citizens will have the opportunity to know and hold accountable the legislators who will prioritize national interests and those who will prioritize their own, personal, vested interests as far as the national budget is concerned,” SWP claimed.
“We urge legislators to abide by their mandate to review the budget allocation, put in place mechanisms and amendments that will safeguard people’s money from squander and misuse, and promote transparency and accountability in the budget process”, SWP concluded. ###
Social Watch Philippines (SWP) is a network of over a hundred civil society organizations and individuals engaged in research and lobby efforts in holding the government accountable for the fulfillment of national, regional and international commitments to eradicate poverty and carry out social, economic, and gender justice. SWP promotes people-centered sustainable development by proactively monitoring the progress and delivery of social commitments forged by the government and influencing the outcomes of policy decisions through citizen's participation in public finance.
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