We in the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) today express our strong apprehension concerning allegations made by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Mar Roxas III that some P20 billion slashed from debt servicing, agrarian reform and personnel services in the proposed P1.415-trillion 2009 national budget were reallocated to the congressional pork barrel of some lawmakers in an effort “to build up the administration advantage in the 2010 elections.”

We believe the allegations if proven true is appalling, debasing as it is callous and cruel. Appalling because it is a clear perpetuation of the practice of using public funds to finance political patronage, plunder and corruption; debasing, cruel and callous because it is using and abusing the people’s misery especially in a time of a crippling economic crisis as well as hijacking the reforms it won in the 2009 budget particularly on debt and social spending to its own advantage.

We know for a fact that the amount for debt payments proposed by the Executive in the 2009 budget can be reduced by Congress, an act which we have been advocating. We believe the continuing payment of these burdensome ‘obligations’, many of which are challenged as illegitimate, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in realizing genuine economic development.

However, we also know for a fact that it could be used by some legislators as a means to increase their pork barrel allocations, knowing that the debt service due will still be fully paid because of the automatic debt servicing provision as provided by the Revised Administrative Code of 1987. We believe, it is in this same context that the allegations made by Sen. Lacson and Roxas on the P 20 billion pork barrel are operating.  

Truly, the charge made by the said senators is not merely the normal reaction of those not politically associated with the President as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita would simply equate it. The accusation is serious as it is a grim reminder that unless the entire budget process is genuinely democratized and have become transparent, reforms in the general appropriations no matter how significant and meaningful would always be susceptible to the machinations of some legislators much more of a corrupt president wielding undue fiscal powers which would use it for its own vested interests.     

For this reason, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) calls for a strict scrutiny of the 2009 National Government budget involving the public, social movements and the media. We also demand the bicameral conference committee, a venue famous for its horse trading and secretive deals on the annual budget to release the details of the final budget before it is submitted for ratification. Such action would not only satisfy the established check-and-balance mechanisms that would help in identifying and/or preventing plunder and corruption of the people’s resources but also to ensure that the realignments, specific amendments and other reforms made in the budget measure particularly on the debt and social spending would clearly benefit the public.

In all of this, it is easy to link legislative debt reduction as a potent source of corruption. It is as easy also to call for an end to such practice and just let the executive determine how much to pay for our debts as it is mandated in the budget law. That, however, only serves to transfer corruption from the solon side to the executive side, which is already practicing “fiscal dictatorship” with its unimpeded budgetary powers. It is also glosses over the bigger case of a global corruption, wherein unscrupulous lenders push us to pay for illegitimate debts at the expense of our social welfare.

Yet as we emphasize this, we deem that the discourse on debt reduction and increased social spending on the budget must not be limited alone to pork barrel insertions and accusations to augment the electoral campaign kitty of some politicians. It must not be limited to the bickering of politicians both from the administration and opposition, who have ambitions but who have yet to offer a clear economic platform. The debt reduction initiative is, first and foremost, one of the best answers to the unfolding global economic crisis, preparing the budget to develop an efficient socio-economic stimulus package to protect the most vulnerable sections of our society. We should not lose sight of this fact.  

In the final analysis, concrete and basic political reforms must be effected in order to ensure a National Government Budget that is truly responsive to the needs and interest of the Filipino people especially in a time of an unfolding economic crisis. The economic predicament the global community is faced with must be used as an opportunity not only to end the practice of using public funds for political patronage. It must also compel our policy makers to end one of the laws—the automatic debt servicing provision as provided by the Revised Administrative Code of 1987—that not only makes pork barrel insertions possible, but also makes our economy helpless to the ramifications of the endemic crisis of a flawed international development paradigm. ###

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