MANILA, Philippines—A Philippine poverty and human rights watchdog alleged that ‘pork barrel’ might still be existing, this time, in the proposed P3.767-trillion 2018 national budget.
Social Watch Philippines (SWP) said in a statement that only 59% (PhP2.269 billion) of the national budget is being deliberated. The remaining 41% is left unexamined.
“SWP found that the budget which are usually outside the purview of congressional and public scrutiny are the following: special purpose funds (SPFs) amounting to P592.38 billion, P980.8 billion for automatic appropriations and P75.34 billion for unprogrammed funds,” SWP said.
According to SWP convenor Isagani Serrano lump sums “indicate an inherent vulnerability in the budget because of limited transparency and accountability.”
“Once these are approved, these are vulnerable to reductions, transfers, and ‘adjustments’, he added.
Among the SPFs in question are the P145.75 billion-Pension Gratuity Fund (PGF), P84.45-Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF), and the P13-billion Contingent Fund.
According to Rene Raya, another SWP convenor, the allocated funds for SPFs grew along with the national budget.
“We pinpoint that the budget for pension and personnel benefits may seem to be overstated, with appropriations amounting to P15.623 billion for PGF and P14.034 billion for MPBF that were unreleased in 2016. The 136% increase for fund subsidies for contingencies is also a cause for concern, especially with the special provision augmenting Presidential travel expenses,” Raya said.
He added that the funds allocated in the aforementioned SPFs can be rechanneled to programs that are “pro-poor, pro-equality, yet unfunded or underfunded budgets.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Ma. Victoria ‘Marivic’ Raquiza, also SWP convenor, said that the issue of pork barrel may still be alive despite the declaration of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a lump sum allocation fund found in earlier budgets, as unconstitutional.
“With lump sums still tucked in key agencies, the practice of pork barrel politics remains possible,” she said, referring to the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Technology Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and Commission on Higher Education (CHED).