MANILA, JULY 27, 2010 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - President Aquino will submit to Congress next month a P1.75-trillion national budget for 2011.

“We will submit it on Aug. 24,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told reporters shortly after the President’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasan yesterday.

He said the 2011 planned budget is about P200 billion more than this year’s P1.541-trillion outlay, which was the highest level proposed by former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her nine years in Malacañang.

He said the increase would go mostly to social services like education, health and infrastructure.

When asked if Mr. Aquino is keeping all agencies he inherited from Mrs. Arroyo and giving them funds, Abad responded, “Some programs and agencies may be collapsed or transferred to other departments, but we still need President Noy’s approval.”

He said the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) and the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) could be some of these agencies.

New Customs chief Angelito Alvarez has proposed the abolition of PASG as it is a redundant agency, since it duplicates the functions of his bureau.

As for the PACC, it has largely been a dormant entity since the Ramos administration, when then Vice President Joseph Estrada headed and then police colonel and now Sen. Panfilo Lacson led the commission’s Task Force Habagat, which later became the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force.

PACC has an annual intelligence fund of P500 million, the biggest amount appropriated in the annual budget for intelligence information gathering. The fund is under the disposal of the President, who chairs the PACC.

Though she dismantled the task force headed by Lacson, Mrs. Arroyo kept PACC and its annual intelligence fund, which amounted to a total of P4.5 billion in her nine years in office.

Abad also said the Aquino administration would have to make do with whatever amount Mrs. Arroyo left unspent in this year’s budget.

“We are really in a tight financial situation, given the overspending that has happened,” he said.

In his SONA, the President reported to Congress and the nation that of the P1.54-trillion 2010 budget, “only P100 billion – or 6.5 percent of the total budget – can be used for the remaining six months of the current year.”

“Roughly one percent of the total budget is left for each of the remaining month,” he said.

He said of the P2-billion calamity fund, P1.4 billion or 70 percent has already been spent.

“The entire province of Pampanga received P108 million (in calamity funds). Of this, P105 million went only to one district (apparently the second district represented by Mrs. Arroyo). On the other hand, the province of Pangasinan, which was severely affected by typhoon ‘Pepeng’, received a mere P5 million, which had to be used to fix damage inflicted not only by Pepeng, but by a previous typhoon, ‘Cosme’,” he added.


SONA horror stories: Still in campaign mode POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual Jr. (The Philippine Star) Updated July 27, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (6)

IT’S SUBJECTIVE: As we have pointed out many times before, a phenomenon is perceived or recreated in the mind by the point of view taken.

This is more pronounced in matters that could be highly subjective, such as the state of the Filipino nation.

As a rule, those sympathetic with President Noynoy Aquino could be expected to agree with his State of the Nation Address (SONA), while it would not be surprising if his critics and political foes found fault with it.

* * *

IT’S PERSONAL: Who is to say what the true state of the nation is?

Like beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, the state of the nation is what the individual Filipino thinks it is. The situation is how he lives it in his daily grind.

If a Filipino thinks the quality of his life has improved appreciably, it is likely that he has something good to say about the state of the nation. Reality is what is perceived from his personal point of view.

But if life has been hard for him and his family, whatever was said in the SONA, to him and his brood the state of the nation leaves much to be desired - which is a reflection of his subjective point of view.

* * *

THREE TASKS: People like me are of the view that delivering the SONA is not an end in itself. The report should not only dwell on what an incoming president finds upon entering his office, but also on where he would want to take the nation from here, and how he proposes to do it.

In short, the President had three tasks before him when he delivered his SONA: tell us (1) where we are, (2) WHERE he wants to take us, and (2) HOW he proposes to take us there.

We heard much of our sorry state in the here and now, but not enough details about where he wants to take us and how he would take us there.

* * *

HORROR STORIES: In his 39-minute speech, President Aquino devoted half of his time telling horror stories of how the treasury was raped. The fiscal deficit has grown to P196 billion, he pointed out.

He mentioned that with six months still left of the fiscal year, the Arroyo administration had spent P949.2-billion of the P1.54-trillion national budget, leaving only P591.4 billion.

But Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said earlier that the bulk of the P949.2 billion went to paying salaries and personnel services, which take priority under any regime.

With a water shortage looming, Aquino disclosed that officials of the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System pocketed millions in bloated salaries, allowances and benefits. This while benefits due employees were withheld.

* * *

NFA, NAPOCOR: He also railed at the National Food Authority, which kept importing billions of pesos worth of rice, more than what is actually needed. Part of the stock had been diverted to the blackmarket or left rotting in warehouses.

Net result is that NFA now has a P171-billion loss in its books without it being able to loosen the hold of the cartel on the rice trade.

Mentioning other cases of virtual looting of government-controlled firms, Aquino said that the National Power Corp. was made to sell electricity at a loss just so the administration could gain political points.

* * *

MRT FAILURE: The same situation was reported in the case of the Metro Rail Transit, which was forced to lower its fare to unrealistic levels. This resulted in recurring big losses and its eventual purchase and takeover by the government.

The MRT is one of the projects put up by private investors who had been guaranteed profits. If they incurred losses, the government was obligated to make up for them.

At some point, it was reasoned out by past administrations that since the government was to pay back losses of the private investors anyway, it was deemed that the same subsidy effect would be the same if fares were reduced.

* * *

FAVORITISM: Taking a dig at his predecessor President Gloria Arroyo who has been elected congresswoman of the second district of Pampanga, Aquino disclosed that of the P108-million calamity fund for the province, P105 million went to her district.

In contrast, he added, the province of Pangasinan that was ravaged by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, received only P5 million. It even turned out that the amount was for typhoon Cosme that hit the province in 2009.

“The funds for Pampanga were given in an election month, seven months after Ondoy and Pepeng,” Aquino noted. “What if there is a typhoon tomorrow?”

Ms Arroyo was not around to react. She was in Hong Kong ministering to her husband Mike who went to the former British colony for medical tests.

* * *

DREAM AGAIN: Although President Aquino sounded like he was still in campaign mode, it would be a mistake, I think, not to heed his call to join him in his vision of “Puede na muling mangarap.” (Now we can dream again.)

He was not a majority winner in the presidential elections, but people hoping for deliverance may well take heart at the goodwill and public trust he has generated since.

The President may need more time to explain in detail where exactly he wants to take us and how he would do it. Meantime, we just have to take his word in good faith.

For one, he made his SONA just a month after his proclamation, and his Cabinet is still sorting out the mess it has inherited.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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