When it comes to trickery nothing beats Gloria Arroyo’s admin. Even in crafting a 2010 national budget they put one over the public.
At first Arroyo’s Congress cohorts dragged the budget hearings in Oct.-Nov. Congressmen took their sweet time with plenary debates. The usually overpowering majority could not even muster quorums, leading to innumerable session deferments. The All Saints-All Souls holiday came and went with Senate inquiries going nowhere. Clean-election activists smelled a rat. The admin was delaying things to make the government run on a reenacted 2009 budget. That would have been handy in an election year like 2010. With a reenacted budget, projects completed in 2009 will get fresh funding in 2010. The President would have a free hand realigning hundreds of billions of pesos to “new projects”. Being brazenly partisan, she would have misused the public money for her congressional campaign and that of her legion. The puny Congress minority would have been unable to stop her.
Amid civil society protests the admin switched to Plan B. The Senate and House of Reps uncharacteristically worked during the Christmas break to reconcile their versions. The wide discrepancies didn’t daunt them. For they had a common aim: pad the P1.54-trillion budget for electioneering. For the second year in a row, the House slashed automatic appropriations for debt interest by P30 billion. The amount was diverted to usual pork-barrel departments: of Public Works and Highways, Transportation and Communications, Agriculture, Education, Health, and Social Welfare and Development. Not to be outdone, the Senate further cut debt servicing by P35 billion, and also embedded it as secret pork in the six agencies. The President, though in the past always quick to defend creditors’ benefits, didn’t mind the budget cut-and-paste. She had allowed the same in the P1.4-trillion appropriation of 2009, to distract legislators from impeaching her. Never mind that the cut in debt payments would lead to tighter credit and higher interests for both businessmen and consumers.
And so the DPWH budget for 2010 surged by P30.4 billion, first from Malacañang’s original P96.6 billion to the House’s padded P113 billion, then to the Senate’s further padded P127 billion. The DOTC allocation rose by P2.1 billion, from Malacañang’s P14.5 billion to the House’s P15.8 billion, to the Senate’s P16.6 billion. Same with the rest. Admin congressmen and senators will then withdraw the secret pork for their pet projects, for nifty kickbacks.
Just in time for their election bids too. The bicameral budget body co-chaired by Sen. Ed Angara and Rep. Junie Cua made sure of it. Earlier on they had told Arroyo to “frontload” the pork releases in Jan.-Mar., as campaigning starts for the May 10 balloting. For good measure, Angara and Cua wrote riders that forbid the President from impounding first-semester allocations for later use, and require congressional approval to realign. The provisos would tie not only Arroyo’s hands but also her successor, in case they depart from the usual coddling of legislators’ whims. Malacañang spokesmen went through the motions of saying the President will impound and realign as she pleases, just like before. Whether it was all for show, to downplay her being a lame duck, would soon be seen. That is, if she vetoes or retains the contentious insertions.
At any rate, the P65-billion hidden pork is on top of the usual perk of P200 million per senator and P70 million per congressman. (Only Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal renounce pork slabs, and made sure their combined P400 million was deleted from 2010’s.) Then there’s the P200,000-P500,000 monthly no-audit stipends for committee chairmanships, and millions more in no-audit allowances.
Angara also created a P10-billion “economic stimulus” from slashes of other budget items. This package, which Cua avidly signed, ostensibly is to pump-prime the economy from global financial crisis. But legislators rejoice at the additional source of pork. Angara also increased the budget of his home province’s Aurora Special Economic Zone to a whopping P800 million, from Malacañang’s proposed P145 million. On the day all this was ratified, the eight senators in the bi-cam, except Angara, had not signed the budget report. The House had no quorum as usual. Copies of the final version were kept from the media. If not for The STAR reporter Jess Diaz’s diligence, the public would not have known what was happening. Even the Senate and House opposition was silent about the sneaky admin fast break.
* * *
Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s New Year pardon of imprisoned foreigners was first reported to benefit 43 Filipinos in jail for petty crimes. Then the figure was upped to 79. The discrepancy is due to poor monitoring by Filipino officials of exactly who, where and how many overseas Filipino workers are in jail, and for what. So the Blas Ople Policy Center is asking the Philippine embassy to check out all jails and account for all incarcerated countrymen. Three of them who pray to benefit from the royal clemency are Jess Pamintuan, Jason Pineda, and Dondon Lanuza.
Pamintuan was sentenced to nine months but has been behind bars for over a year. He has written Center head and senatorial candidate Susan Ople for help in getting a pardon. In direr straits are Pineda, once set for execution, and Lanuza, convicted of killing a sexual attacker.
* * *
“In the calm of life, raise your heart in prayer. For behind the quiet majesty of that mountain are storms you know not of. Be ready. Be strong. Be prayerful.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ
* * *