[8 Sep 2014 | No Comment | 1,567 views]

More anomalous gov’t projects with Hilmarc’s revealed

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[18 Sep 2014 | No Comment | 182 views]

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.

‘Experimental budget’

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.

Slow death

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.

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[18 Sep 2014 | No Comment | 92 views]

Officials of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) assured legislators Thursday that it will support the move to again amend the Anti-Money Laundering Act to include casino operations in the purview of the council.

At the sidelines of the plenary hearing for the 2015 budget of the AMLC, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon talked to its officials, including Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad, to ask their position on House Bill No. 3334, a bill which seeks to require casinos and other gambling establishments to submit to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) all persons availing their credit line with a cumulative amount of borrowing exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in any currency.

Ridon filed the bill last year after the Supreme Court released its decision on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

In the said decision, the SC directed “all prosecutorial organs of the government to, within the bounds of reasonable dispatch, investigate and accordingly prosecute all government officials and/or private individuals for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of all funds under the Pork Barrel System.”

“I talked to AMLC officials and asked if they are amenable to HB 3334, especially its provision on monitoring casinos and other gaming junket enterprises,” Ridon said.

The lawmaker explained that casinos are at risk of being conduits for money laundering since said institutions undertake financial activities similar to financial institutions, such as money exchanges, money transfers, and accepting funds on account.

“AMLC officials said they are amenable to an amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act to include monitoring of casino activities with a minimum of P500,000 transaction. This is a good development, though HB 3334 aims to cover transactions with a minimum of P100,000. I believe that as Congress hears this bill, AMLC will consider lowering the threshold to P100,000,” Ridon said.

Apart from casino activity, HB 3334 also seeks to require real estate companies, agents and brokers to require buyers to provide proof of payment of previous year’s taxes and proof of income from all sources that can adequately show capability to buy the subject real property.

“The immediate passage of HB 3334 will make it truly difficult for money launderers to divert dirty money to the legal front and expedite the investigation and pursuit of all plunderers involved in the pork barrel scam,” Ridon ended.

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[18 Sep 2014 | No Comment | 101 views]

While it is but necessary for the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to conduct a lifestyle check on law enforcers, a party-list solon said Thursday that all government executives, including the president, cabinet members, legislators, and other government officials should undergo the same scrutiny of personal wealth.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon issued the challenge following the announcement of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas that he is poised to issue a memorandum circular to require all members of the Philippine National Police to undergo a lifestyle check, following the spate of high profile crimes involving police officers.

“While it is but necessary to ensure that our law enforcers are not unlawfully enriching themselves through their positions, may I respectfully suggest that the same lifestyle check be made for all officials of government,” said the young lawmaker, who has been recorded as the fifth “poorest” legislator in 2013, based on the last year’s Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN).

Ridon suggested that all government officials from Salary Grade 30 to 33 should undergo mandatory lifestyle checks.

President Benigno Aquino III is the only official on Salary Grade 33, with a monthly salary of P120,000.

The Vice President, the Senate President, the House Speaker, and the Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice are all under Salary Grade 32, with a monthly salary ranging from P103,000 to P111,198.

Department secretaries, senators, congressmen, associate justices of the SC, and heads of constitutional commissions all are under Salary Grade 31, with a monthly salary ranging from P90,000 to P97,163.

Meanwhile, there are 607 government executives under Salary Grade 30, which include department undersecretaries, presidential assistants, the solicitor-general, and associate justices of the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan.

“Lifestyle checks should not be selective. If our government officials truly have nothing to hide, then they should support this call for mandatory lifestyle checks,” Ridon said, adding that the recent corruption scandals rocking the nation necessitate such blanket checking of personal wealth.

“Every government employee is required to submit SALNs annually, yet these documents may not reveal the actual personal fortune of our officials. Plus, it is widely known that not all SALNs of government executives are easy to obtain. Annual mandatory lifestyle checks will be a good measure to enforce. Such lifestyle checks should also in turn be made publicly available,” Ridon explained.

“In this light, I urge the president, and the heads of the Legislature and Judiciary, to issue necessary memorandum orders to provide for mandatory lifestyle checks in their individual branches,” the legislator added.

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[18 Sep 2014 | No Comment | 187 views]

For every three-peso funding requirement of the country’s 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs) for 2015, the government will only provide one peso.

This is according to new data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), which revealed that SUCs requested for a total of P122.7 billion for 2015. However, DBM only approved P41.2 billion, or about one-third of the actual budget needed by Philippine state schools.

In the Philippine budget process, agencies including SUCs are asked to submit a budget proposal by April of the year preceding the fiscal year in focus. DBM will then analyze and consolidate these proposals into the National Expenditure Program (NEP), which after being approved by the president, is passed to Congress for legislation.

“The Aquino administration has continually emphasized that it is responding to the needs of the education sector, yet these figures clearly show that it is not,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon in a news conference this morning, together with student leaders from various SUCs.

The legislator stressed that several SUCs are not receiving the funding that they gravely need. Data from DBM shows that most SUCs, including the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), receive only half of their total funding requirement.

UP passed a budget proposal amounting to P25 billion, yet DBM approved for inclusion in the 2015 NEP some P12.6 billion. PUP, meanwhile, asked for a P2.15 billion budget, but DBM only approved P1 billion.

Among SUCs in Metro Manila, the Philippine Normal University (PNU) is set to receive the lowest percentage of their actual budgetary need. PNU submitted an original P3 billion budget, but DBM only approved P569 million, or just 18.6 percent.

“The government’s continued refusal to provide SUCs adequate funds for their operations have resulted to the continued commercialization of education and the annual increase in tuition and other fees collected from students,” Ridon said.

The youth lawmaker stressed that it is enraging that there are billions of funds for questionable items and lump-sum allocations, yet the Aquino administration only provides a third of the total needs of the country’s state schools.

“As was revealed in the past days, there are billions of pesos allocated for questionable programs and projects, funds highly vulnerable to corruption, funds that can be considered as presidential pork barrel. During the plenary debate on the budget of SUCs, I will enjoin my colleagues to look into the plight of our public tertiary education system and provide more funds for our 110 SUCs,” Ridon concluded.###

State School Original Proposed Budget (2015) DBM-approved Budget (as stated in 2015 NEP) Difference Percent approved
Eulogio ‘Amang’ Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology 238,131,000 211,811,000 26,320,000 88.9
Philippine Normal University 3,057,267,000 569,092,000 2,488,175,000 18.6
Polytechnic University of the Philippines 2,152,091,000 1,048,801,000 1,103,290,000 48.7
Rizal Technological University 455,131,000 265,077,000 190,054,000 58.2
Technological University of the Philippines 882,166,000 475,367,000 406,799,000 53.9
University of the Philippines System 25,005,289,000 12,612,093,000 12,393,196,000 50.4

Source: DBM

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[16 Sep 2014 | No Comment | 175 views]

The Aquino administration has an average P1.4 billion “black budget” or budget for classified and secret operations every year, a party-list lawmaker pointed out Tuesday.

“In past years, the United States Federal Government has come under fire for what is called the ‘black budget,’ which is an appropriation that is confidential in nature and is used for intelligence gathering, covert operations, and secret military research. In the Philippines, I believe we also have a black budget, which amounts to an average of P1.4 billion annually. I am talking about no other than the intelligence and confidential funds,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said.

Confidential funds are funds for surveillance activities in civilian departments and agencies.

Not all agencies are provided with confidential funds, as during budget preparation, the Executive Department exercises its discretion on which departments will be given funds for confidential expenses. To tighten the secrecy in the use of said funds, all disbursements or releases from this fund should have the immediate approval of the department secretary concerned.

Meanwhile, intelligence funds are funds for “intelligence information gathering activities of uniformed personnel and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact to national security.” Like confidential funds, intelligence funds are given to agencies during the budget preparation process subject to the discretion of the Chief Executive.

Apart from that, intelligence funds can only be released upon approval of no less than the president himself. Details of the expenditures are kept secret, and all reports of the utilization of intelligence funds are submitted directly to the president.

“The secretive nature of these funds explicitly bars the public from scrutinizing how these funds are used. Even the Commission on Audit only has a minute ministerial role in scrutinizing the use of such funds. The highly secretive nature of these funds make it suspicious and open to abuse,” Ridon said.

According to data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Executive Department is seeking for P637.8 million for confidential funds distributed in select agencies including the Office of the President, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of National Defense (DND).

Meanwhile, the Executive Department is seeking for P832.6 million in intelligence funds, scattered in several agencies including the Office of the President, DILG, Department of Transportation and Communications, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

(See table below for historical presentation of the Philippine black budget)

“If the details on the use of these funds are kept secret, even for Congress, how can legislators determine if the funds the national government is asking for confidential and intelligence expenses are justifiable?” Ridon asked.

The lawmaker also stressed that the funds can be considered as part of the president’s pork barrel.

“This is especially true in the case of intelligence funds since the said funds can only be released upon approval of no less than the president himself. We need to remember that there have already been several issues during the past administration as regards the use of intelligence funds for electoral campaigns,” Ridon said.

The lawmaker noted that the P1.4 billion ‘black budget’ may also be funding covert counterinsurgency activities such as summary killings, torture, and snooping and wiretapping, among others.

“This black budget may be funding covert activities that lead to the massacre of innocents, the silencing of critics, and the perpetuation of the culture of impunity,” Ridon said.

“Black budgets of governments around the world have long been criticized for being institutional sources of corruption and funding for extralegal activities. Congress should seriously consider excising this black budget from the annual appropriations law, as it poses several dangers – especially in our country where there’s still no Freedom of Information Law,” the legislator concluded.

THE PHILIPPINE BLACK BUDGET 2012-2015 (in PHP)

FUND 2012(ACTUAL) 2013(ACTUAL) 2014(ADJUSTED) 2015(PROPOSED)
Confidential expenses 840,881,000 864,997,000 630,193,000 637,793,000
Intelligence expenses 555,864,000 733,873,000 832,626,000 832,626,000
TOTAL 1,396,745,000 1,598,870,000 1,462,819,000 1,470,419,000
 Source: Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing 2012-2015