Thursday, October 24, 2013

PORK BARREL 101: Speech delivered before Philconsa at Manila Golf Club, Makati City


Former Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson
October 24, 2013


Greetings.

The great Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

The country has enough funds to sustain government operations year after year, but  always ends up short and resorts to borrowings. There are two reasons for it - greed and corruption.

One is obviously worse than the other.

Let me explain.

In 2002, the first national budget under former PGMA was P782.9B. Nine years later, in 2011, the first national budget under PBSA III had more than doubled at P1.645T.

The country’s outstanding national debt in 2003 was P3.256T. Ten years later, as of today, it has increased to P5.864T. Every Filipino, both living and unborn is P61,733.28 in debt, both to some foreigners and to his  fellow Filipinos. (Bawa’t Pilipino, nabubuhay man o hindi pa isinisilang ay mayroon nang pagakakautang na mahigit animnapu at isang libong piso).

One thing I would say is apodictic – it is still counting.

Now, to pursue my point - every year, the recorded savings in the national budget mainly due to underspending by the national government runs to billions of pesos. Thus, total savings in 2009 was P263.8B; it was P111.6B in 2005; P3.5B in 2002, and so forth and so on.

An ordinary citizen’s valid question is - Why do we keep on borrowing when we keep on saving? I will venture a guess for an answer: Para may mapaglaruang pondo ang mga nasa gobyerno.

Recently, a newly minted program named Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP, which the DBM claims to be in existence since 2011, surprised everyone, including myself and all the senators and congressmen, both active and retired.

Further, DBM has claimed that the P50M to P100M in additional pork barrel allocations to most senators after the conviction of the former chief justice in May 2012 came from DAP, funded by savings in 2011, or what is termed in the GAA as Unused Appropriations amounting to P238.8B. When we speak of Unused Appropriations, it consists of two items, namely (a) Unreleased Appropriations(P79.6B) and (b) Unobligated Allotments(P159.2B).

An undisclosed number of congressmen likewise received at least P10M in additional PDAF under the same program.

Ang sabi ng DBM, 9% lang naman ng kabuuang  P142.23B ang kanilang naipamigay sa mga mambabatas noong 2011 at 2012. Tama po iyun - 9%, o P12.8B. Ang P12.8B ay 51% ng kabuuang P24.8B na pork barrel ng mga mambabatas kada taon.

The issue does not end there. If the programs and projects were actual budgetary items in the GAA, why was there a need for the endorsement of legislators? If the projects did not appear in the GAA and therefore still to be identified by the legislator recipients of additional PDAF under DAP, clearly, there were no items in the 2011 and 2012 GAA’s to be augmented. Worse, the realignment crossed over from the executive branch to the legislative.

Article VI, Sec 25, para 5 of the constitution provides that “No law shall be passed authorizing the transfer of appropriations; however, the President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of constitutional commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for “their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations…”

Having said that, we leave it to the Supreme Court to resolve the issue of constitutionality of the DAP as raised by Philconsa and five other petitioners.

It must be recalled that the Aquino administration was severely criticized in 2011 for underspending due to a very low absorptive capacity of practically all the departments and their line agencies.

In 2012, the total Unused Appropriations amounted to P216.1B, broken down into Unreleased Appropriations of P38.1B and Unobligated Allotments of P178B.

It is mainly due to Budget Circular 541, issued by the DBM last July 18, 2012 authorizing the DBM to pool all Unobligated Allotments of agencies with low levels of obligations as of June 30, 2012, both for continuing and current allotments. Initially, it was to cover all unfilled positions in all three branches of government including the  constitutional bodies. The DBM backpedalled and withdrew when the Congress, COA, Ombudsman and the Supreme Court strongly objected to what we perceived as an encroachment by the executive into the fiscal autonomy of these offices.

Budget Circular 543, issued on October 10, 2012 on the other hand, shortened the validity of appropriations starting CY 2013 to one year instead of the usual two year validity period for the MOOE and Capital Outlay.

The twin circulars, needless to say, are indicative of a fiscal dictatorship by the DBM.

But we are only dealing here with savings in the GAA under the budget item, Unused Appropriations which I mentioned earlier.

If we add to the P216.1B in Unused Appropriations in CY 2012, the other potential sources of funds may come from budget items identified as (a) Earmarked Revenues amounting to P71.4B; (b) Continuing Appropriations -  P163.6B; (c) Overall Savings of P65,6B; and (d) Unprogrammed Funds of P152.8B. Therefore, just in the 2012 GAA alone, we could end up with a whopping P669B which can be generated for the DAP.

While I have no reason to compare PBSA III to former PGMA in handling government funds, too much fiscal discretion by any branch of government will not only be unsupportive of the principle of check and balance, but will affect the fiscal management efficiency of the national government.

It is for this reason that I laud and commend the Philconsa for questioning the constitutionality of the DAP before the Supreme Court.

I fully support your petition - not to put President Aquino in a bad light, or declare an all-out war against the DAP, because I personally believe, as a layman who also knows and understands certain simple provisions of the Constitution, that DAP per se in neither bad nor illegal.

As a former colleague in the Senate who can personally attest to the honesty and incorruptibilty of President Aquino, I want to help him succeed in his well-intentioned “Daang Matuwid” vision for this benighted land, but he must initiate the move to correct the mistake of a constitutionally infirm act of augmenting non existing items in the GAA, and worse, realigning savings in the budget of the executive branch to the legislature in obvious violation of Art VI, Sec 25, para 5 of the 1987 Constitution.

I hope he does it while there is still time to rectify the flawed program and possibly render the pending petitions moot and academic.

So much for the DAP.

My 9-year old grandson, Thirdy would often ask me why I did not touch my pork when I was in the Senate.

I told him why; and I will tell you why.

The pork barrel system is ugly, more often than not, cruel, sometimes merciless towards the people we all swore to serve and protect when we took our oath of office.

I learned of it with my own eyes and with my own ears. I’ve known about it first hand. I participated and objected to it in caucuses and during plenary debates on the senate floor, even in bicameral conferences.

I think it was in 2006, when there was held an all senators caucus to decide on what to do with more than P38B in Special Purpose Funds (SPF), a.k.a. Lump Sum, the disbursement of which was under the control of then PGMA. I went along with the suggestion to slash a substantial portion of that fund. But that was only the good part. The ugly side, and I loudly objected to it was to, hold your breath, re-allocate the deducted amount to the pork barrel of legislators, 300 million pesos each in addition to the regular 200 million pork barrel of senators.

Without my knowledge, they held a second caucus on the same subject.

Indeed, God works in many mysterious ways. (Sadyang marunong ang Diyos).

One Thursday afternoon of the same year, while our small eating club composed of a few opposition politicians, businessmen, political analysts and advertising people, then Cong. Alan Peter Cayetano requested thru former political adviser to Pres Erap, Lito Banayo that I allocate P50M to Taguig out of our additional P200M from the realigned special purpose funds. Apparently, Cong Alan got wind of the information from his ate, Sen Pia Cayetano.

Mula sa hindi napagkasunduang P300M na dagdag pork bawat senador dahil sa pagtutol ko, nahiya sila ng one-third kaya ginawang P200M na lang sa pangalawang caucus na hindi naman ako pinasabihan.

The following Monday, I lost no time to confront the finance committee chairman and the Senate president and threatened them that I would go to town on that  issue and would not stop interpellating on the Senate floor all the way to the period of amendments until the P4.6B in additional PDAF of 23 senators disappears from the proposed GAA.

A few more intervening events transpired afterwards, but to make the long story short, the P200M additional pork for each of the 23 senators did not materialize.

Needless to say, I was the bad, kill-joy, corny kontrabida.

I can narrate to you a hundred more stories of similar nature, done collectively and individually to fatten individual pork barrel allocations, from the committee hearings to the period of amendments all the way to the bicameral conferences - P200M minimum for senators and P70M for congressmen.

I said minimum because every year, just before the period of amendments of both chambers, small and big group caucuses decide how much each member would get as additional pork, usually at least P100M more for senators. The second tranche of how much more should come just before the bicameral conference committee meetings, traditionally referred to as the third and most powerful  chamber of Congress.

The smarter ones manage to wrangle as early as during the committee hearings held  to tackle the budgets of departments and agencies; likewise during plenary debates when questions are addressed by individual legislators to heads of the different agencies thru the budget sponsors.

If you ask me how much, all I can tell you is that the monies are carefully parked in the budgets of some departments and agencies whose heads are willing co-conspirators in the schemes…, or scams. The amounts realigned or inserted  range from a few hundred millions to even over a billion pesos for the smart, diligent and well-connected legislators of both houses.

More than ten years ago, on March 11, 2003, I delivered a scathing privilege speech on the Senate floor, unequivocally calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system, be it named the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF), Congressional Initiative Allocation (CIA), Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or whatever name Malacanang and Congress may invent to justify its inclusion in the national budget. I referred to the system as a virus of corruption that must die. I detailed how billions of pesos went to the many deep pockets of corruption - of some legislators who identified the projects; of certain officials of the implementing agencies under the executive branch; and the usual proponents from the local government sector.

That privilege speech was an appeal to the conscience of my colleagues, or, at the very least, their sense of shame. The timing I thought could not have been more ideal or perfect. The country’s budget deficit in the preceding year, 2002 was at an alarmingly uncontrollable pace, hitting P213B and counting.

I can still remember how I had braced myself for an extended interpellation from my colleagues. I was eagerly ready with my arguments to defend my position.

For, that is the essence of democracy, at least in any collegial body like the Senate - we agree to disagree, debate with each other until we are black and blue, and in the end, arrive at a consensus, or a vote, if you will, to support or reject what a member or some members are proposing.

As soon as I finished my speech with the usual, “Thank you, Mr. Senate President. I now yield the floor for interpellations…” what I heard was the banging of the gavel by the presiding officer, then SP Franklin Drilon, followed by a curt, “Session suspended…”.

I thought I would have a momentary breathing spell to review my notes as I returned to my seat.

Not a minute longer, the SP declared the resumption of session. As I walked towards the podium, I heard another banging of the gavel followed by a loud, “Session adjourned!”

That was it. No interpellations or debate, no referral to any senate committee, and therefore, no resolution to the arguments that I posited in that privilege speech.

From that time on, I started to believe - democracy is not always right. The ‘rule of the majority’ principle is not always a principled phraseology.

Years passed. I continued to forego at least P200M of my yearly share of PDAF.

I recall, after spending 10,000 hours in self-exile as a fugitive from injustice, President Aquino personally told me that the management of the pork barrel was a lot better under his watch and even convinced me to start availing of my pork entitlements. I politely declined the offer and told him that I preferred to maintain my advocacy against the pork barrel system.

Anyway, years passed. I knew that the pork barrel system was a ticking bomb ready to explode in our faces. The question, when it would happen was the only thing I thought was uncertain. I had a practical reason for believing so. In this material world, satisfaction is a myth. It is greed that is real.

It has now exploded.

People would sometimes ask me, how I was able to predict that something like the Napoles phenomenon would hit the nation and anger the people like no other. Some friends even tell me, I am a man ahead of my time. I tell them, I did not  predict. I only knew that not availing of my PDAF was the right thing to do then, and the right thing to do now.

The wise Chinese philosopher Confucius once wrote, “If you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”.

The Filipino people are on a revenge mode - against a systematic pillage of the nation’s treasury by those who, without fear and compunction, we trusted to check and balance each other in the use and disposition of our monies out of our income tax and taxes on our daily consumption of goods and services.

They are outraged to discover how they have been had for as long as they can remember.

With Philconsa taking the frontline, we are certain to succeed in this fight.

Therefore, without intending to dishonor the wisdom of Confucius, we only need to dig one grave as we embarked on our journey of revenge. That grave is for the evil siblings called PDAF and DAP. 

Let us make sure that we will dig a wide, deep grave because there are too much and too many to bury.

Thank you very much and good evening to all.

*****

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