Serious about fighting Corruption? Know what you are up against.

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If knowledge is power, as the saying goes, then ignorance must be powerlessness. The experience of corruption in the Philippine system is almost universal. But equally so is the ignorance of the extent and volume of the corruption whose effect on the national economy is fatal – killing all chances of the Philippines ever becoming an equitably developed country.

Just about everyone, from the humblest citizen to the proudest corporation, has a tale to tell about having to come across with extra payment to get things done or seeing how an otherwise poor acquaintance suddenly became rich and super-rich when he got a ‘good position’ in government, elective or appointed.  

Joseph A. Ranola, founder and CEO of the Center for National Budget, is a big help in overcoming “illiteracy” on the national budget. We are talking about the money coming from the people through both direct and indirect taxation and going to the government for its disposition supposedly in service of the people. 

When the people know how much is being allocated for them and what kind of service they are getting, they might also ask, “So where did all that money go?” They might even be angry enough to either seek radical reforms peacefully or engage in direct actions for the common good. But first, they must know what’s what. Who will read the numerous pages of Volume I-A, Volume I-B, Volume 1-C, and Volume II of what is called the General Appropriations Act for this year 2023, otherwise known as Republic Act 11936?  Who will explain to them the Regular Budget of the various departments, attached agencies, and government corporations that now come to a whopping total of three trillion, one hundred fifty-seven billion, six hundred twenty million, and one hundred ninety-one thousand pesos? 

Who will clarify the additional one-trillion, three-hundred-twenty-billion, six-hundred-thirty-three-million and seven-hundred-thirty-two-thousand-pesos Special Purpose Funds appropriated to augment the regular budget of selected departments though subject to the approval of the President? Who will explain the Automatic Appropriations of another one-trillion, five-hundred-ninety-six-billion, nine-hundred-eight-million, and five-hundred-fifty-seven-thousand pesos meant to service our foreign and domestic borrowings? We the people need these explainers and we need to understand as we the majority daily experience ever worse misery and impoverishment. 

In these Special Purpose Funds who can explain to us the 807.1-Billion-peso unprogrammed appropriations? Who can assure us that these humungous amounts all go to the service of the people and not merely find their way to the pockets of a few who, thereafter, have the means to stay on in office in dynastic security?

Who will clarify for us why some big projects of the same place, size, and specific description can be given appropriation not in one but in two, three, four, or even five places of the National Budget? Yes, some identical-same projects can therefore collect many times over because of this magical or deceitful way of budgeting the people’s money, which the latter are presumed to have never the chance to read, much less protest.

For the longest time, even local government units were short-changed by the National Budget until Governor Mandanas went to the high court to have the style of budgeting declared unconstitutional. For the Constitution says that “LGUs shall have a just share, as determined by law, in the national taxes which shall be automatically released to them.” Therefore, Mandanas said correctly, the basis of the determination of the just share for LGUs is “all national taxes” and not solely “national internal revenue taxes.” Mandanas won, and the Supreme Court ruling of April 10, 2019, is now popularly known as “the Mandanas Doctrine” – a clear case that, indeed, knowledge is power.

In practice, though, who determines what’s to be included in the budget? In theory, there is a development budget coordinating committee composed of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Department of Finance (DOF), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

DBM supposedly takes care of budget formulation and execution. DOF takes care of revenue forecasting, revenue generation, and cash-and-debt management. NEDA takes care of economic assumptions, national planning functions, and coordination of official development assistance, while BSP, well, it is the central bank. 

That is in theory, at least. However, more and more have observed that, in practice, the real determinant of inclusion in and interpretation of the national budget is the private contractor. The power of the purse, that is, the power to dispose of the people’s money, lies with Congress where many are not solely “congresistas” but, more so, “contratistas” themselves directly or indirectly through their cronies. 

To the question, then, “Where did all that money (more than five trillion pesos) go?” – did it all go to where it was supposed to go in service of the people who were directly and indirectly taxed to create those funds, or did some percent part of it go elsewhere? Fifty percent? More? Less? Ah, the need to study and to know, the need to have explainers go to the people, for the people alone can have the power to change things.  FINIS

(Charles Avila, The Gardener’s Tales)