The proposed P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020 was rife with concerns on possible pork barrel inclusion, priority on intelligence funds and slashing health funds after it was passed at the Lower House.
On September 20, the House of Representatives voted 457 to 6 in favor of passing House Bill 4228 or the general appropriations bill for next year on the third and final reading following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to expedite it. No lawmaker abstained during the voting.
This fast-tracked process waived the three-day period of voting between two readings and took only 20 working days to accomplish. Budget bills took a longer time and are usually passed not earlier than October.
Lawmakers also sought to prevent a repeat of last year’s budget delay and forcing the government to operate on a reenacted budget.
What are the concerns raised?
Majority leader Rep. Martin Romualdez revealed recently that some P9.5 billion in funds were later realigned to the national budget as part of the amendments made for the projects and priority programs of the departments and local government units.
Of this amount, he said that P3 billion will go to the National Food Authority while the remaining P6.5 billion will head to several departments and local government units.
Some Filipinos, however, perceived that the budget was not distributed well particularly in areas that needed it the most.
They also noted on possible insertions of unconstitutional pork barrel funds among lawmakers.
Senator Bong Go led the Senate hearing that got the proposed allocation worth P8.2 billion to his former office, the Office of the President proper, passed within eight minutes only.
Former Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Loren Legarda were the ones who heavily questioned this budget, particularly the intelligence funds and their recipients, during the Senate inquiries in 2016 and 2018.
Go did not question the amount this time even if it was nearly double the amount in the past three years.
The P8.2 billion is composed of P4.5 billion for intelligence and confidential expenses and the rest will go to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Transportation (DOTR), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the Department of National Defense (DND)-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
As the namesake, confidential and intelligence funds are undisclosed to the public but these are usually used to address national security concerns.
The College Editors of the Philippines (CEGP) raised the concern that this is 21% higher than P6.7 billion the agency received in 2019.
“The taxes of the people are indeed being used to come up with intelligence concerning national security issues, but it is clear to the Filipino people that they deserve not only reliable reports but also transparency and accountability,” said CEGP National President Daryl Angelo Baybado on Facebook.
OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF CEGP ON THE 2020 BUDGET OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT The Duterte regime, who is consistent in…
Cuts to the health agency
Despite the reemergence of polio and dengue and measles outbreak in the country, the budget for the Department of Health was slashed by P16.6 billion.
Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, who was also the former health secretary, said there was also a 63% reduction in the health facilities enhancement program (HFEP).
She said this development overall affects the budgets for important health programs for the Filipinos.
“Every department is supposed to have a 5 to 10 percent increase annually considering the increase in population. Ito bumaba na nga at very important programs ‘yung nabawasan,” Garin said.
Twitter user @carolinobeata retweeted a photo of the emergency department of the Philippine General Hospital to illustrate the current crisis of the health sector.
tas magkano uli budget ng office of the pres? https://t.co/QLsVNKCu2O
— beata (@carolinobeata) September 15, 2019
Possible pork barrel
Both Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and former lawmaker Neri Colmenares made allegations of pork barrel inclusions in the proposed national budget.
Last August, Colmenares urged House leaders to check suspicious lump sums, particularly an alleged P1.7 trillion special purpose fund of the OP Proper.
Lacson, meanwhile, made a cryptic tweet last September 24: “The yearly ‘pork battle’ is on. Gloves are off once more. It’s time to lose some friends and create more enemies. I’ll be busy blocking trolls again. I never learn.”
The yearly “pork battle” is on. Gloves are off once more. It’s time to lose some friends and create more enemies. I’ll be busy blocking trolls again. I never learn.
— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) September 24, 2019
He might be referring to the P100 million allocated for each congressman composed of 70% infrastructure and 30% bankroll soft projects.
Duterte then assured that he would reject or veto the proposed bill should he found some of it unconstitutional.
Concerned Filipinos, however, were not impressed.
“Only six lawmakers voted no to this year’s pork-infused national budget. Who are these lawmakers? Edi Representatives from the Makabayan bloc,” one user said.—Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos