House appropriations committee supports campaign

for 2010 alternative budget

04 October 2009


THE House Committee on Appropriations showed its support for people’s participation in the budget process by conducting a special hearing for civil-society groups’ alternative budget proposals for 2010.

During the hearing, the committee, chaired by Liberal Party Rep. Junie Cua of Quirino, agreed to look into the proposed realignment of funds for social-development programs. They also agreed to raise the issue of impoundment of funds done by the Office of the President.

“Members of the Alternative Budget Initiative, or ABI, are really thankful to congressman Cua and congressman Edcel Lagman and the entire Committee on Appropriations for including civil-society groups in budget deliberations and conducting a special hearing on our alternative budget proposals every year for already three years,” said former national treasurer Leonor Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines, which organized the ABI.

“Civil-society groups could not have been able to push for a total of P5.3-billion additional allocations for social development in the 2007 budget; P6.3-billion increases in the budget for environment, agriculture, education and health in the 2008 budget; and P7.7-billion increases for critical socioeconomic programs in the 2009 budget if the Committee on Appropriations had ignored our campaign,” Briones added.

Impoundment of congressional initiatives
DURING the meeting on the alternative budget, Lagman and Nacionalista Party Rep. Teofisto Guingona III of Bukidnon proposed that Congress should issue a provision against impoundment of budget items by the Executive.

Members of the committee were dismayed that certain budget items that were included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) through the initiative of legislators are not being released. These congressional insertions in the national budget include the additional allocations for health, environment, agriculture and education proposed by the ABI.

The ABI reported to the committee that the budget for socioeconomic programs in the 2008 and 2009 GAA were not released by the Department of Budget and Management. Among the impounded funds in the 2008 GAA were P1.8 billion for family health, P400 million for tuberculosis program, P100 million for autoclaves, P100 million for the promotion of organic agriculture under the Bureau of Soils and Water Management, and P2 million for training for system of rice intensification under PhilRice.

Meanwhile, budget items for the environment in the 2009 GAA are also not being released. This includes P95 million for protected areas and wildlife management and P1 billion for reforestation.

“The legislators’ initiatives in the budget are approved for political purposes, but the actual funds for these budget items are not being released. This is happening because President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in 2008, introduced the notion of conditional vet where the release of Congress’s initiatives in the budget has to be with her approval. She combined this with her power to impound certain budget items and move them to her direction,” Briones explained.

“The President always intervenes with the release of funds. The Commission on Audit already reported that she has transferred funds for departments such as the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Agriculture to special-purpose funds, which are under the control of the President. Once the budget items have changed identity, they are already out of reach of Congress,” she added.

Guingona said the Senate and House of Representatives should join forces against the issue of impoundment of funds.

Alternative budget proposal for 2010
“WE are very encouraged by the proposal of Committee on Appropriations cochair Edcel Lagman that the congressmen adopt our entire alternative budget proposal for 2010, and hope that the new administration in 2010 will not impound our proposed budget items anymore,” said Rene Raya of Action for Economic Reforms.

The ABI proposed a total of P25.2-billion additional allocations for health, agriculture, environment and education. The group also proposed a total of P50-billion alternative sources of financing to be able to increase the budget for social development.

The alternative sources of financing includes special-purpose funds, unprogrammed funds and other budget items which are lump sums in nature, highly discretionary, have no clear mechanisms for accountability in utilization, and have vague or redundant purpose.

The Committee on Appropriations agreed to look at the personnel-benefits fund, tax-expenditure fund and interest payments to scrutinize alternative sources of financing. The congressmen also agreed that the most ideal strategy to minimize borrowings is the rational reallocation of the budget.
Meanwhile, Raya said the proposed alternative budget for education targets investing in teachers for quality education, providing access to education, and achieving functional literacy for all. “The country’s international standing in education has been significantly eroded.

Unesco’s Education Development Index for 2008 ranked the Philippines 75th among 125 countries, falling behind most Asian countries such as China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Many studies have actually been done which point to the same problems related to resources, efficiency and governance,” he said.

Hazel Tanchuling of Rice Watch and Action Network said the alternative budget proposal for agriculture will ensure crop insurance, reduction of fertilizer and seeds subsidy, and thorough study of the devolution of agriculture extension work.

“More than half of the rural population is poor and we are more and more becoming food-insecure. What is more important for agriculture is ensuring that spending is cost-effective, promotes sustainable agriculture practices, and educates farmers to climate-proof their farms,” said Tanchuling.





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