THE proposed P1.415-trillion national budget for 2009, once ratified, is going to be the biggest amount allocated for government in the country’s fiscal history. Compared to this year’s P1.227-trillion budget, the amount represents a 15-percent increase — the highest since 2001, inviting suspicions that the money could be used as campaign funds for the 2010 national elections.

Much of the increase in the budget, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Undersecretary Laura Pascua however explained in a recent forum, is allocated for basic services, for programs and projects intended to improve the quality of life of Filipinos.

Pascua enumerated four priority allocations: food sufficiency, health care, and reinforcing the welfare armor; alternative and sustainable fuel and energy; fight for peace and good governance; and, forming the youth and investing in the future.

By sector allocation, social services will get the biggest chunk of the budget at 30.67 percent (P433.9 billion), followed by economic services at 25.54 percent (P361.4 billion); 21.39 percent for debt service (P302.6 billion), 16.93 percent for general public services (P239.6 billion), 4.61 percent for defense (P65.2 billion), and 0.86 percent for net lending (P12.2 billion).

Rounding up the top 10 are the following agencies:

  • Department of Education (DepEd), P167.9 billion
  • Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), P120 billion
  • Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), P61.9 billion
  • Department of National Defense (DND), P61.5 billion
  • Department of Agriculture (DA), P39.7 billion
  • Department of Health (DOH), P27.8 billion
  • Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), P23.6 billion
  • Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), P16.1 billion
  • Department of Finance (DOF), P13.8 billion
  • Judiciary, P12.8 billion

The DSWD, DOF, and DA are the leading agencies with the highest gains in their budgets, increasing by 115 percent, 70 percent, and 56 percent, respectively.

View DBM Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr.’s presentation on the proposed 2009 budget.

‘Election budget’

Given the substantial increase in next year’s budget, speculations have been raised that this could be used as source of campaign funds for politicians intending to run in 2010.

As much as P5 billion in government funds, including nearly P3 billion released by the Department of Agriculture, were allegedly used to bankroll Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004.

Arroyo, according to former Senate President Franklin Drilon, has about P15.7 billion worth of “pork” in the proposed P1.415-trillion budget.

Speaking at the same forum, Drilon said that some of the proposed lump-sum appropriations are at the “full discretion” of the President and therefore “could be used for political purposes.”

This includes the following:

Malusog na Simula, Yaman ng Bansa Nutrition Program
Department of Health
P3.34 billion
Malusog na Simula, Yaman ng Bansa Feeding Program (additional funding)
Department of Social Welfare and Development
P1.26 billion
Pangtawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program
Department of Social Welfare and Development
P5 billion
National Targeting System
Department of Social Welfare and Development
P1 billion
Core Shelter Program
Department of Social Welfare and Development
P375 million
Kalayaan sa Barangay Fund
Local Government Units
P1 billion
Kilos Asenso Support Fund
Local Government Units
P1 billion
Calamity Fund
Office of the President
P2 billion
Contingency Fund
Office of the President
P800 million
P15.7 billion

The former Iloilo senator sees the said projects similar to Arroyo’s much-advertised doleouts for hunger mitigation. He said that these kinds of items are extremely difficult to monitor in terms of how these are being spent and who the beneficiaries are.

“These funds allocated for the Malusog na Simula, Yaman ng Bansa Nutrition Program and Pangtawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program could be devoted to livelihood programs, which can provide a more sustainable hunger mitigation rather than one-time doleouts,” Drilon pointed out.

Instead of lump-sum appropriations, Drilon also suggested that the said projects can be line items in the budget to establish more transparency.

Usec Pascua, however, explained that while it is true that some of the items in the budget are stated as lump sum, these amounts are for programs undertaken by departments. “The President has minimal interventions in these because these are logistic programs already, so it’s only the calamity and contingency funds that are actually under the discretion of the President.”

To ensure budget accountability and transparency, Pascua announced that the DBM is coming out with the Book of Outputs (Organizational Performance Indicator Framework), which aims to identify the outputs and outcomes that departments are committed to deliver in exchange for the budget that is allowed them.

“How we work in government, you will be assured in a way that your government is fiscally responsible and we strive our best to improve accountability and transparency,” she said.

‘Cut deep’

Still, only about 56 percent or P792 billion of the P1.415-trillion proposed budget are programmed appropriations that are subject to scrutiny by Congress, Drilon stressed. The remaining amount of about P623 billion are automatic appropriations comprised of interest payments for the national debt and internal revenue allotments (IRA) of local government units, both of which Congress cannot touch.

Since funds are automatically appropriated for debt service, University of the Philippines economics professor Benjamin Diokno advised lawmakers to look beyond this appropriation. Instead, the former budget secretary said that a fiscally responsible Congress should make a deep cut in the proposed P1.4-trillion budget. “There should be no sacred cows: every budget item should be scrutinized and justified.”

And since the programmed appropriation for 2009 has increased by a hefty P218 billion (13 percent) from P574 billion in 2008, Drilon likewise counseled lawmakers to be judicious in finding out where this substantial increase went.

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