Not six billion, not six million, but only six thousand pesos.
This is the total amount that the national government intends to allocate to the National Printing Office (NPO) for its operations in 2015, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon pointed out Thursday.
In the plenary discussion of the budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), to which NPO is an attached agency, Ridon heavily criticized the “appallingly miniscule” budget allocation for the national government’s official printing arm.
Section 2 of the special provisions for NPO in House Bill 4968 or the 2015 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) states, “The amount of P6,000 appropriated herein for Personnel Services shall be exclusively for the payment of regular pay, allowances and benefits of personnel of [NPO].”
“Only P6,000 to pay for the salaries of its 441 employees? Where will P6,000 get you nowadays? That’s even lower than the monthly salary of a minimum wage worker!” Ridon exclaimed.
According to the 2015 GAB, starting next year, the NPO needs to source its funds almost wholly from its internal income from its production and printing activities.
“I believe this is highly irregular. This is utter state abandonment of a government agency. We have to remember that the NPO is not a GOCC. It is entitled to government funding, just like any other regular government agency,” Ridon said.
In a dialogue with NPO employees, PCOO Secretary Herminio Coloma dubbed the 2015 NPO budget as an “experimental budget.”
“Is it really an experimental budget or a closure notice? Allotting P6,000 for a whole agency is tantamount to killing it,” Ridon said.
Based on data from the PCOO, the NPO actually requested P169.2 million for its operations next year, of which P150.3 million is for payment of salaries.
In 2014, Congress appropriated P78.4 million for the NPO.
“Instead of allotting a measly P6,000 for NPO, Congress should approve its original request of P150.3 million. We have to remember that we are talking about the agency that prints government documents. We can’t allow it to simply stop operating because of this paralyzing budget,” Ridon said.
The legislator also raised the issue that the national government is purposely cutting subsidy for NPO to force it to stop operations and let private printing companies take over the “lucrative business of printing government books, forms, and documents.”
“NPO’s slow death began when former President Gloria Arroyo signed Executive Order 378 in 2004, which removed NPO’s exclusive jurisdiction over printing service requirements of the government,” Ridon noted.
EO 378 states that NPO “shall have to compete with the private sector, except in the printing of election paraphernalia.”
“There have been reports that certain unscrupulous government officials are getting kickbacks from rigging printing contracts for government documents. That’s apparently the motive behind the very low allocation for NPO,” Ridon explained.
“One notorious case is that of a company called Ready Form, Inc. (RFI), which has reportedly cornered several lucrative printing contracts from various government agencies,” the legislator said.
Ridon revealed that RFI has already been tapped by the Commission on Elections to print registration forms for Regions VI and VII in 2012.
“Apparently, there are entities inside government who aim to disable NPO to enable them to clinch lucrative printing projects and get kickbacks,” Ridon said. The legislator said that he is bound to file a resolution next week to dig deeper into the issue.
“The curious case of NPO reveals how private interests result to the intentional abandonment of government responsibility. Congress must not allow NPO’s budget to remain like this,” Ridon ended.