By Jonathan L. Mayuga and Marvyn Benaning
With the absence of an agrarian-reform law following the expiration of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in June last year, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) expressed fear that the P10.13- billion budget allocation for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will serve as campaign kitty of the Liberal Party (LP) in the 2016 elections.
This developed as Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan also questioned the P1.15 billion in the proposed budget of the Department of Tourism (DOT) for “local projects” that do not have any detail and suspects the money may just also be used for the elections.
This huge stash of cash will be allocated, which may end up being used for projects that will be inaugurated by Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II, the designated LP presidential candidate for the May 2016 elections, Ridon said.
KMP Chairman Rafael Mariano noted that 2016 is an election year and the government resources, such as the DAR’s budget next year, may be used to boost the candidacy of LP members or, worse, commit electoral fraud to ensure victory.
Describing the DAR’s 2016 budget as “premeditated savings” and “LP campaign kitty,” Mariano added that the bulk of the DAR’s budget, such as lump-sum funds, were prepositioned to “LP-friendly downloading stations, administration bailiwicks and vote-rich territories.”
“Without a land-reform law, the P4.5-billion allocation for land acquisition and distribution of the DAR is obviously a lump-sum allocation highly vulnerable to corruption,” he said in a news statement.
He added that with the new definition of savings, chances are the DAR budget will be another deep source of the ruling party “designed to suit their fiscal and electoral agenda next year.”
According to Mariano, CARP expired on June 30 last year, preventing the DAR to cover lands under the land acquisition and distribution component of the program.
Ridon argued that the funds for these “locally funded” projects are part of the P648 billion in lump sums that may be spent according to the wishes of Malacañang and its “daang matuwid” drumbeaters.
Ridon and the seven-member Makabayan Bloc at the House of Representatives have consistently questioned the practice of Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad of pushing the so-called budget transparency, only to create layers of codes and unspecified expenditures that end up with LP politicians, from senators to congressmen.
The lawmaker also questioned why the DOT has been getting “bottom-up budgeting” (BuB) projects and even allotted P196.6 million for them since this BuB was the handiwork of non-governmental organizations that are now within the LP circuit. BuB is overseen by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) under Roxas, Ridon said, and it boggles the mind why the DOT should have a share of such projects in its proposed P4.59-billion budget for next year.
“We can say that this is part of the LP’s large pork barrel for Roxas’s candidacy,” Ridon said.
Apart from meddling with locally funded projects, the DOT would get entangled with the BuB mechanism that is “highly vulnerable to corruption” and containing a provision similar to that contrived for the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which enables local government officials to cancel and replace projects already indicated in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).
There is a total of P24.7 billion allotted in the 2016 budget for BuB projects that has been disaggregated in 14 implementing agencies, including the DOT.
Ridon also took issue with the ultra-optimistic target of the DOT to have 10 million tourist arrivals next year, arguing that poor infrastructure, including the impossibly slow Internet and other telecommunications services and the “disastrous transportation system” overseen by Transportation Secretary and LP President Joseph Emilio A. Abaya are some of the reasons why the goal of Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. will not be met.