O, ano, let me see if you know, the priest says in his homily at Mass. What is 2019 the Year of? His audience triumphantly chorused: “The Year of the Pig!” Shame on you, the good father admonished. It is always “The Year of the Lord.” And all laughed heartily at themselves.
Alas that is the way of the Filipino, most things can be joked about. Misplaced and perverse tolerance for others’ irreverence to sacred beliefs and principles can both be self-effacing reaction to the subconscious participative guilt and the largesse of mercy and compassion for the other who has “sinned” — as such ready pardon is preached in religion.
Tomorrow, Feb. 5, is the first day of the Year of the Earth Pig, in Chinese astrology. “It is a great year to make money, and a good year to invest! (thechinesezodiac.org).
A year to make money. News has been about the alleged pork barrel insertions in the still-pending 2019 national expenditure program (NEP) or the Budget. But Congress is scheduled to close this week for the start of the 90-day campaign period for the May 13 elections. And unless the Budget is approved by the bicameral body (Bicam) of the House of Representatives and the Senate as revised, what will rule the disbursements of government will be a “re-enacted budget,” meaning the approvals in 2018, with its savings and diversions will be the loose template for 2019.
If the 2019 Budget is approved before deadline by the Bicam with the alleged self-serving insertions and pork barrel supposedly embedded in the proposed spending plan by some legislators, these allocations will be authorized. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a member of the Bicam committee, claimed House members were each allocated P160 million in pork barrel funds that were inserted in the proposed national budget. “P160-million pork for each congressman, and billions more for a few others, plus P23 billion for some senators on the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) budget alone is too much and unacceptable,” Lacson said (The Philippine Star, Feb. 2, 2019).
When the 2019 budget process was just started in July 2018, Lacson had already strongly warned against providing for pork barrel funds (The Philippine Star, Aug. 9, 2018). “The House will be observant of the Supreme Court (SC) ruling, most specially regarding lump-sum funds and the role of legislators in budget authorization,” Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said then, referring to the 2013 SC decision declaring the annual P25-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the annual budget as unconstitutional. (Janet Lim-Napoles, suspected mastermind of the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam was detained on plunder charges, together with former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., the first two out on bail, while Revilla has been cleared. Enrile and Estrada are running for the Senate in this year’s elections.)
It was clarified that “the high court’s ruling does not prohibit lawmakers from proposing or including projects for funding while they are considering the budget. Several senators and most House members have thus taken advantage of this to include their projects in the annual spending program before it is enacted. The unwritten rule is that senators are still allocated P200 million each, while congressmen have increased their allocation to P80 million each with the consent of Malacañang. A few senators, including Lacson, are not availing of their allotment” (Ibid.).
But even Sen. Lacson admits to including in the Budget more than P4 billion for a battalion of soldiers purposely constituted to fight terrorism. Sen. Loren Legarda, who heads the Senate team in the Bicam, said that she and Lacson have agreed that allocations for congressional districts “were not pork and that they know the districts need such funds” (The Philippine Star, Feb. 2, 2019). And yet the Senate insists that the P190 billion in amendments or realignments by the House has to be cut from the Budget (Ibid.).
In the slurry pigswill of pork barrel accusations, Rep. Andaya has accused Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief Benjamin Diokno of inserting P75 billion in additional funds in the proposed Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget this year, allegedly favoring Diokno’s relatives for projects in the Bicol Region. “Andaya first linked Diokno to alleged irregularities in the preparation of the proposed budget in December shortly after Sen. Panfilo Lacson bared that House Speaker Gloria Arroyo and some of her allies in the chamber were allocated P4.3-billion in discretionary funds or ‘pork barrel’ in the proposed expenditure plan” (ABS-CBN News, Jan. 26, 2019).
Andaya said the DBM has turned into a “super-bidding body” in violation of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and questioned why the agency was handling the bidding for P198 billion worth of government contracts (The Philippine Star, Jan. 18, 2019). Diokno said the Procurement Service (PS), an attached agency of the DBM, is legally mandated under Section 53 of RA 9184, Letter of Instruction (LOI) 755 and Executive Order (EO) 359 to procure the common-use supplies (CSE) of the entire government. “Section 7.3.3 of the implementing rules and regulations of the Procurement Law authorizes procuring entities, including the Department of Transportation, to take advantage of the procurement proficiency of other agencies, particularly the PS, in the conduct of bidding for other items [non-CSE] (Ibid.).
An initial reading of relevant procurement laws reveals that the powers of the DBM have not been revised much after the Martial Law mandate (LOI 755 Oct. 18, 1978) and after the EDSA People Power Revolution (EO 359 June 2, 1989) to set checks and balances between the Executive and the Legislative in terms of the Budget and its implementation.
Why can it not be as it is in the private corporate structure, where for controls, the department or office that plans and makes the budget has absolutely no role in the bidding and the procurement process, and the “user” departments (Marketing, Operations, Production, or even the Admin offices)? In business, these others can plead all they want for budget allocations while in the budget hearings until the final cast of the budget, which will be held sacred for the current fiscal year — subject to strict internal audit. The next year will be a zero-based budget.
It is suggested that the Bicam settles the issues on the identified pork barrel insertions in this week’s final chance to enact the 2019 budget before the elections. Prudence should prevail that when in doubt (as to the legality or uprightness of those “insertions”) — DON’T. In fairness to the Filipino people, and in the fiduciary responsibility of government for the people’s money, let it not be a reenacted budget, but a trimmed down Budget, sans the ugly, icky stuff in the pig slush that the Budget has become.
And in the Year of the Pig — amend/revise, or make a new procurement law that will ensure prosperity and wealth for the common good, and not just for a few opportunistic persons wanting to get rich.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.