The budget mess and Philippine “democracy”
posted 23-Dec-2018  ·  
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The pot is calling the kettle black.

This is the very essence of the brouhaha Congress members in the Lower and Upper Houses are finding themselves in after Senator Ping Lacson’s expose on billion-peso budget insertions forced House appropriations chairman Rolando Andaya to accuse Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of links to a contractor that won over a billion worth of infrastructure contracts.

The province of Catanduanes was dragged into the mess, with Rep. Andaya claiming that over P600 million worth of “inserted” flood control projects went to the island through C.T. Leoncio Construction & Trading, a Bulacan-based company.

According to reliable sources, Andaya’s P600-million claim is not true as only P275 million in flood control projects went to the island, mostly in Virac. One prominent project is the one located at the back of the DepEd complex and the CNHS compound that seeks to divert flood waters coming from the rice fields towards the nearby Gogon and Francia creeks.

It is likewise incorrect to describe the funds as a product of “insertion,” that phenomenon in recent administrations whereby unallocated funding suddenly appears in the national budget for projects that were not in the list submitted by government agencies like the DPWH.

The P275 million worth of projects, one official source said, was in the list of infra projects in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and thus not inserted after the budget approval process.

The allegation that Congressman Cesar Sarmiento was not aware of the projects is likewise not believable. It is the congressman’s business, you know what this means, to “know” each and every project and program being implemented by the DPWH and other agencies.

If he is to win the next election, each House representative worth his salt needs to monitor the “hard” infra projects of the DPWH and the other “soft” projects of other agencies like TESDA and DTI.

Why so? The “hard” projects provide the “gold” much needed in “winning” elections particularly in a province where vote-buying is rampant while the “soft” projects give the congressman opportunities to claim credit for the distribution of government assistance to constituents.

On Jan. 3, 2018, DPWH officials in Bicol, including the districts in Sorsogon and Catanduanes, will be going to Naga City to attend and testify before a House committee hearing called by Rep. Andaya to unearth the truth behind his allegations.

But do not expect the hearing to lead to reforms in how the public’s tax money is budgeted and spent by government, often with the participation of legislators.

The current controversy, as jaded political observers see it, would fade away as soon as the primary characters get what they want: a proportionate share of the pork barrel in the 2019 national budget.

Pork has really never left both Houses of Congress, a point port-averse Sen. Lacson always makes every time the House budget comes up for review by the Senate. While the Supreme Court has essentially ruled that pork barrel is unconstitutional, the largesse that is the source of the solons’ wealth remains intact year after year.

That is the reason why President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-corruption campaign works only in spurts and never catches any legislator. What president in his right mind would go after a powerful House that could remove him through impeachment in a snap?

Philippine politicians cannot win elections without buying votes, having to buy votes means a politician needs to steal from public funds if he doesn’t have earning businesses, and a public willing to sell votes gives politicians their license to steal.

That’s the hard truth of Philippine democracy in these times.

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