Saturday, September 27, 2008

Short and simple

A retired government official, who is a certified public accountant, a member of the bar, and has an academically-earned doctorate to boot, wrote in a reaction to our article "The budget sucks."

He said: "I liked the way you described the budgetary process. Your attempt at reducing the technical jargon for the benefit of your readers was quite admirable. Indeed, both the DBM and the House Committee on Appropriations as well as the Senate Committee on Finance, backed up by an array of technical support groups, have through the years evolved so many ways and means of hiding, inserting and even parking funds in the voluminous General Appropriations Act."

"Senator Lacson admitted in an interview that it was a budget reform advocacy group which pointed out the double entry for him. His humility at telling the truth about his source is quite rare among politicians. A lesser man with bigger pretensions would have simply hogged the credit for such perspicacity.

"I likewise find the accusations made by Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. on this issue, in defense of the Senate President, both mendacious and dissembling. His late father, a man whose brilliance I admired, must be turning in his grave,

"In a queer defense of the Senate President, I watched Andaya Jr. charge Lacson on television with the offense the latter himself exposed. He said that Lacson, as a member of the bicameral conference committee, is "to blame, because he signed the report that was finally approved by both chambers of Congress". Lacson indeed shares a small part of the blame, but in truth, the double entry went past the brilliant mind of Juan Ponce Enrile, as chairman of the Finance Committee, and Edcel Lagman, who, like the late Rolando Andaya Sr., was undersecretary of the budget in the Aquino administration. Andaya Jr. conveniently forgets that the final bill as approved by both chambers of Congress, is transmitted to the President by no less than the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. So, Villar and De Venecia signed the budget likewise, and as heads of their chambers, if only out of command responsibility, they should be responsible more than the peers they lead.

"When the approved legislation is sent to MalacaƱang for the final act of presidential signing, which is only when it becomes perfected as the General Appropriations Act, it is supposed to be reviewed by Andaya Jr. and his staff once more. So here you see that Andaya Jr. also missed the double entry for the same road. If it was oversight on the part of his staff, it is still his responsibility. How many such double entries may have happened before, in his watch or under his predecessors?

"You hit the nail on the head when you described the secretive manner by which a few men, negotiating in behalf of their peers in both Houses of Congress, or for their respective leadership, finally hammer out the bicameral conference report. Andaya Jr. was chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations before President Arroyo appropriated him into her cabinet as minister of the purse. When the DBM Secretary was yet the appropriations chairman, his Senate counterpart was Senator Manuel Villar, who was chairman of the Finance Committee before he became Senate President. Both presumably are experts in the budgetary process, and both presumably likewise, should have possessed the eagle eyes to review a budget that they sign.

"Former DBM Secretary Emilia Boncodin said in kind fashion that this may have been a case of "human error." Possibly. But when you take note of the dramatis personae, Villar, Andaya and Lagman, all budget experts, and their presumably competent support staff, an "error" like this is inexcusable. One could probably excuse Senator Enrile because of advanced age, though certainly not for any lack of wisdom, which towers above most.

"I have some very short and simple questions regarding this double appropriation for a similar project:

"First, if as Senate President Villar states, he just wanted to increase the budget for a worthwhile project, the Carlos P. Garcia Avenue, formerly C-5, why did he not just cause the amount appropriated to be increased from 200 million to 400 million pesos?

"Second, Senator Enrile has publicly said that it was an insertion, as contradistinguished from a floor amendment, which under transparent conditions should be the acceptable way of increasing or decreasing proposed appropriations in the budget. And Sen. Enrile admitted that it was Villar who asked for the insertion. Was there a letter-request from the Senate President to Enrile for the inserted amendment? That (if any) should provide some clues into this double-entry mystery.

"Third, the Senate President stated that he just wanted to augment funds for the project. He did not state in his press conference that the additional 200 million was for a fly-over, as Senators Arroyo and Cayetano now allege, after the DPWH, almost a week after the double entry was exposed, also claim. If it was a fly-over, this is the first time in my long experience in government that such a monumental project was relegated to a single inserted line called "C-5 Road Extension, from SLEX to Sucat." Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane or his trusted undersecretaries must be called to explain this unusual description, and show the according programs of work.

"Fourth and finally for now, why did Andaya, after having been apprised of the mysterious 200 million double appropriation, state before the Senate Committee on Finance that he would no longer release the other 200 million, for which he claimed no SARO had yet been prepared? This is clear admission, contrary to what DPWH and Villar’s defenders are saying, that the appropriation was intended for a fly-over.

"Lastly, let me express my appreciation for your quotation from Sen. Dominador Aytona, about the budget being the economic plan of government expressed in pesos and centavos. For that is precisely what it is, and that is precisely why the budget is the single most important piece of legislation every year. Senator Aytona is one of the most brilliant Filipinos I have known, and it was my honor to have served under him at one time in his selfless and dedicated career.

"Please convey my best to Sen. Panfilo Lacson though I have never had the pleasure of his acquaintance. I had already retired from government service when he was appointed chief of the PNP. Giving in to the desires of family members, I migrated to North America during the unfinished term of President Estrada, which Gloria Macapagal Arroyo completed. Watching from the sidelines as a concerned citizen, I admired how he instituted reforms in quick fashion in the largely discredited police force.

"But let me tell you this: Before I migrated, I hosted a simple dinner for colleagues and staff with whom I served our Republic. Some of my guests worked with the Commission on Audit. When I asked them about Lacson, one of them said, "Sir, the secret of Lacson’s success is really on how he devolved funds from Camp Crame to the field stations of the PNP. Before, close to 40 percent of the PNP budget was retained by the generals in Crame, and only 60 percent went to the police stations in the field." Lacson made a simple budgetary rule, he explained to us: 15 percent for headquarters, and 85 percent for field operations, and made sure the money really went to the police force and not just the generals and colonels.

"I heard Senator Arroyo deride Lacson as a mere "policeman" in one of the heated debates broadcast by TFC, and I remembered what my auditor-friend told me about the policeman who understood what good management is all about."

Further this writer sayeth naught. The letter of our North American reader needs neither explanation nor any attempt at analysis.