Social Watch Philippines to Bicam members: Do not sign 2009 budget without details




Do not sign the 2009 national budget until the details of the P1.415-trillion budget are disclosed to the public and to the members of the Bicam themselves. This is the call of Social Watch Philippines (SWP) to members of the Bicameral Conference Committee upon announcement by the Senate President that the Bicam is ready to pass the budget while even members of the Bicam are complaining that they do not know its details.

Former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, SWP lead convenor, said that transparency in the national budget process has become graver this time. SWP, which leads 60 nongovernment organizations in engaging in the national budget process through the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI) campaign, has been calling for transparency in the Bicam for many years.

“The Bicam used to meet as a group to decide on the final version of the budget but there were neither minutes nor reports of the meeting. Now, the members of the Bicam themselves are complaining that they do not know the details of the approved budget and that they were not made aware of the final negotiations on the budget.” Briones said.

SWP lauded Senator Panfilo Lacson for announcing that he will not sign the budget as a member of the Bicam until details are reported to the public. “We are quite lucky that ABI partner legislators are members of the Bicam. They carry the ABI crusade for a more transparent, accountable and participative budget process,” Briones said.

SWP called on House Committee on Appropriations Chair Junie Cua and Senate Finance Committee Chair Edgardo Angara to reveal the details of the approved P1.415-trillion budget for 2009.

“Not reporting details on public funds is a crime against the people,” Briones said. “The two chairmen (Cua and Angara) should explain the details of the budget, especially the transfer of budget items for agencies to lump sum appropriations. They could have removed funds for social development programs of agencies and increased the amount of lump sums which are vague and subject to the discretion of only one person,” Briones added.

“The Bicam owe it to the people to provide details on people’s money especially now that national elections are coming. We have to make sure that the economic stimulus fund does not become an election stimulus fund,” Briones said. “The people need to be assured that their money goes to social services and not wasted or used for election purposes. We should be assured that there are no double entries or huge amounts of appropriations which have no special provisions and are subject to the abuse of only one person,” she added.

The ABI has been calling on government to adopt the people’s alternative budget proposals which includes increased allocations for critical social and economic programs such as environment, agriculture, education and health.

“People’s lives are at stake here. Increased spending on environment is urgent because global warming is causing environmental disasters which displace thousands of families. There should be increased spending on health because unreleased funds for health such as the funds for tuberculosis vaccines and autoclaves already caused serious implications to the health and well being of many Filipinos. There should be more budget for agriculture because the number of Filipino families going hungry increased significantly during the last quarter of 2008. There should be more funds for education which will also open job opportunities for many Filipinos,” said Isagani Serrano, SWP convenor.

“We call on other legislators who are members of the Bicam not to allow the passage of a national budget which was finalized in secrecy,’ Briones said. “As the duly elected representatives of the people, we look up to our legislators to exercise their power of the purse to protect public funds so that these funds may be used for people’s welfare,” Briones concluded.

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