If there’s anything that fascinates about PDAF or pork barrel, and now the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) fund, it’s how much money this country actually has. No, correction: it’s how much money government has.
I’ve said this before, and I say it again: it is fantastic that we are talking about the National Budget, that we are being forced to scrutinize these numbers, that we are looking at the state of nation vis a vis the amount of money that’s unaccounted for by government and our politicians.
At this point, we’re not just talking about the PDAF, at P70 million pesos per congressman and P200 million pesos per senator, P25 billion pesos each year. We are also talking about the fund that is in the hands of the President himself, to be used at his discretion. Off the 2013 Budget, the most fascinating of them all: the Unprogrammed Fund in the amount of P117.5 billion pesos, Automatic Appropriations at P755 billion pesos (2013 Budget Message of the President, Official Gazette).
The Unprogrammed Fund is infinitely interesting because for the years 2010 and 2011, not all of it was utilized by government. That is, of 2010’s P68.9 billion unprogrammed fund, only P5.86 billion was utilized, and of 2011’s P66.9 billion, only P20.4 billion was utilized. 2012’s P161.69 billion has yet to be accounted for (info via Kabataan Partylist Pork Barrel Primer, Sept 2013).
Listed under Automatic Appropriations for 2012, at nine items including debt service interest payment, internal revenue allotment, tax refund, among others, alongside a P26.834 billion under Special Account (General Appropriations Act 2012, DBM website), which is not explained.
That this P755 billion falls under Automatic Appropriations “bars Congress or any oversight agency to scrutinize where these supposed automatic funds are really going” (Kabataan Partylist Pork Barrel Primer). How’s that for transparency and accountability?
But it only gets better, as even more money proves unaccounted for – if not part of a program that we are hearing about for the first time. Welcome DBM’s DAP!
The Disbursement Acceleration Program is almost self-explanatory: it is a fund that’s disbursed to accelerate the delivery of public services. According to deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, it is “a pool of monies from savings or unspent funds—unreleased appropriations, realignment and unprogrammed funds.”
These savings and unspent funds would find its way to Senators’ hands. In 2012, P1 billion pesos of the DAP was distributed among 20 senators, most getting P50 million each, for their proposed projects. Not surprisingly, DBM Sec Abad has downplayed that amount by pointing out how the DAP has been disbursed to other departments and projects in 2011 and 2012.
Yet nothing can beat the statements of the senators themselves, varied as their reactions are to the revelation that they had, in fact, received this amount from the DAP.
One Senator Jinggoy Estrada called it a bribe / incentive to convict SC Chief Renato Corona. One Senator Ralph Recto thought it was part of his PDAF, and yet another Senator Joker Arroyo thought it was part of the GAA for the year. One Senator Chiz Escudero asserts that “The DAP was adopted in 2011 to address the lack of absorptive capacity by some agencies to implement projects.”
One Senator Franklin Drilon has said, “The issue here is whether the funds were misused or not. I hope the public will listen to our explanation that we did not pocket everything” (itals mine).
But see, at this point, I tend to think this is not just about whether funds are misused, or whether these were pocketed, as it is about delivering an accounting of where these funds went, how much was actually used, where in this country’s 7,100 islands does that project stand. We need to have a sense of what government, and our Senators and Congressmen, are spending on, and whether those are still priority projects at this point.
Case in point: there is a 2012 P1 billion allocation for DepEd’s School Building Program; every other Senator and Congressman will talk about using his or her PDAF, and DAP allocation, for building schools. Is someone keeping track of how many schools there are already, how many more are needed? And most importantly, how much is needed to build a school at all?
And no, I don’t mean the DBM website giving us PDF files that give us nothing but lump sums, too. The better to create the illusion of transparency.
Yet transparency is not about putting public documents online. Transparency and accountability, the promises of PNoy’s matuwid na daan, demand of government to provide us with information that breaks those large amounts down into understandable palatable numbers.
Explain how and why this government believes that passing funds through Senators and Congressmen is the only way to actually deliver services to citizens in need. Explain how it is that the government can have savings in the amounts of P82.5 billion pesos in 2011, and P54.8 billion pesos in 2012, and yet when it rains a little stronger and longer than usual, our cities are flooded. Justify the government’s insistence on an MRT / LRT fare hike, when it has savings in the billions. Defend the privatization of public hospitals, even as senators and congressmen bemoan the loss of cash to dole-out to indigent patients, and decent healthcare is practically nil in this country.
Explain why we should trust this government’s disbursements of the nation’s money, when it cannot even account for where this money goes exactly, and whether it’s even being spent on the right things still.
Tell us where our taxes go. Tell us to the last cent. Until then, freeze all spending.
this was published in The Manila Times Opinion Section, on October 2 2013.