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No budget transparency again

“It is presumed that once the budget from the House is approved and passed, there should then be no more need for the so-called ‘amendments,’ and other extras to be discussed in the bicam.

Ninez Cacho-Olivares

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When it comes to budget transparency, legislators will always claim they are for it, yet their words and actions don’t reflect their claims, as year after budget year, the House of Representatives and the Senate lawmakers who make up the bicameral congress, are publicly perceived to be engaged in the practice of haggling and insertions, mostly to keep their pork barrel intact.

The usual excuse of the bicameral congress members is that they are not against transparency, but that the bicameral conference committee hearings would be turned into a circus, so intoned Speaker Alan Cayetano, who is pushing for porky amendments to be discussed and included in the 2020 national budget.

Cayetano aired his objection to Sen. Ping Lacson’s proposal to make public the bicam conference hearing on the 2020 P4.1 trillion national budget, claiming that the move to make the hearings public could result in the delay of the budget’s passage due to the possible deluge of budget proposals from the public.

Is he kidding? The budget proposals don’t come from the public, but from the pork hungry members of Congress. If there are delays, they are mainly because negotiations for the inclusion of the congressional pork take long.

The Speaker, who evidently does not want the bicam hearings made public, even as he claims he is all out for transparency, was quoted as saying to reporters, “We have to be very realistic on how we can get the job done. When you make the bicam live and open to the public, many will play into the media, play into the gallery rather than really talk about the budget.”

He added: “You will have to make the bicam open to the media but it’s already February, March, April and we don’t have a passed budget yet. What good is the budget?”

That’s a pretty poor excuse not to give the general public a transparent hearing and get a close-up look on how such “private hearings” are being conducted, where many suspect, insertions and the so-called amendments are made bargaining chips by the bicam members, and where supposedly the originally passed budget by the House and the Senate is treated to too many miracles.

What these honorable sh*ts seem to forget is that the money in the proposed budget is the people’s money, and not the legislators’ money that is being discussed. Since this is the people’s tax money, it is but right for these bicam conferences hearings to be made public and transparent.

What is difficult to understand is the fact that Congress, both the Senate and the House, is given more than enough time to hold budget hearings and pass the budget.

It is presumed that once the budget from the House is approved and passed, there should then be no more need for the so-called “amendments,” and other extras to be discussed in the bicam.

The so-called amendments from the House side seek additional realignments of up to P100 billion in the proposed P4.1 trillion national budget for next year. Just like that — adding what these members of Congress want on the matter of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money and for what? For their share of pork, evidently, especially as their earlier pork had to be junked, after there were criticisms of the “hidden” and illegal pork barrel.

But that doesn’t stop these members of Congress, as there the legislators went, trying to get back what was denied them, with the “amendment” of P100 billion, with Cayetano even assuring the Senate and the taxpayers that the planned realignments “will be transparent and will not be pork or parked funds.”

Maybe it won’t be called pork or parked funds, but pork, by any other name, is still pork, and well these congressmen and senators know it.

Already, a new name for pork appears to have cropped up, as Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has asked government officials to stop their practice of “pasa load,” a form of artificial spending made possible by transferring allotments from one agency to another to cover up the failure to spend.

“What’s happening now is allotments being transferred to other agencies to make it appear they’ve been ‘obligated.’ They do this so they can boast that funds have been obligated and can’t revert back to the treasury,” Recto said in Filipino.

So, why shouldn’t hard earned but unspent taxpayers’ money revert back to the treasury? The taxpaying nation certainly can do with a slimmer, instead of a fatty budget that gets even fatter year after budget year? And where do the unspent funds go? Yet another form of pork, executive and congressional pork?

What used to be in the tens of millions by way of the national budget, became tens of billions and now it’s in the trillions which the Filipinos and their great, great grandchildren will still be paying for, since the government spends more than it earns year after year.

Filipinos have the right to demand transparency in the bicam hearings. After all, it’s hardly the money of the senators and congressmen. It’s the people’s money, and well these honorable sh*ts should know it!

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