MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. issued a statement yesterday that the proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 is 100-percent “pork free;” and the House of Representatives will make sure it stays that way,
A large sector of society, however, isn’t convinced. As deliberations on the proposed budget continue, civic and lawyers’ groups stage protests against what they believe to be hundreds of billions of pesos of “pork” embedded into the2015 budget, in the form of lump sums.
As it stands, lump sums, or “Special Purpose Funds” comprise more than P500 billion of the proposed national budget. These funds also include the Contingency Fund, Miscellaneous Personal Benefits Fund, and the Pension and Gratuity Fund.
“They’ve expanded the meaning (of pork barrel). They’ve widened it to include all the lump sums,” Belmonte clarified, referencing as an example the P14-billion Calamity Fund, “which is a lump sum but we cannot call it pork.”
Belmote further explained that lump sums cannot be itemized, because of the very nature of the purposes for which they have been set aside.
However, he stressed the absence of pork, saying: “There’s absolutely no pork, and we’ll make sure there’s nothing that will go to the pockets.”
In opposition to these views, professor Leonor Briones, former national treasurer and lead convener of Social Watch, explained that the presence of lump sums in the government’s budget – particularly in the year before the 2016 presidential elections – puts public coffers at greater risk; making these even more susceptible to corruption.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon shared similar views to Briones: “Apparently, Malacañang believes that if you repeat a lie a thousand times, it becomes the truth. Yet no amount of smoke and mirrors can hide the fact that various lump sums, discretionary funds, and allocations for political patronage still exist in the 2014, and even the 2015 national budget,” Ridon said.
Ridon likewise opined that the anti-pork protest action would strengthen the Makabayan bloc’s commitment towards the impeachment of Aquino, and that the rally was a “prelude to the President’s imminent downfall.”
“President Aquino may think that he controls the numbers when it comes to the impeachment process, yet the real numbers that matter are the thousands of ordinary citizens gathered here today to clamor for genuine social change,” Ridon said.
“We march in the streets to remind the President that he is no sovereign ruler, but a mere agent of the people. And the people have spoken clearly: we want you out,” he added.