CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Pork Barrel first the poor can wait

MANILA (UCAN): Faced with the high costs of the siege and martial law in Mindanao coupled with the billions of pesos eaten up by the slaughter campaign disguised as a war on drugs, the poor of The Philippines are being dealt a further blow with a radical slashing of social service budgets.
 
Instead, billions of pesos are being transferred to budgets for the most indefinable and least transparent area of state expenditure; security.
 
The budget secretary, Benjamin Diokno, is claiming that the most affected agencies have been under spending in past years, but Antonio Tinio, a congress member from the Teachers’ Partylist, maintains this is not true.
 
Tinio pointed out that budget cuts directly threaten 71 shelters for abandoned senior citizens, as well as orphans and children at risk of conflict with the law, in addition to the victims of trafficking.
 
However, the amounts of money involved are not the only issue at stake, as the manner of distribution has once again become the most contentious issue.
 
Father Benjamin Alforque says that with the rejection during August of the keep-it-clean secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Judy Taguiwalo, over her refusal to open the flood gates on the flow of aid through the hands of congress members, including cash, lies at the heart of it.
 
Tinio explained that the bulk of the department budget for next year will now go in cash transfers through the committee that ousted Taguiwalo from her position.
 
Her demise was blamed by some on the 1987 constitution for taking absolute power to appoint away from the president, but the Appointments Commission is not an invention of 1987, but a carryover from previous constitutions and the most plausible explanation is that ultimately it was the president, Rodrigo Duterte, who dropped Taguiwalo.
 
Taguiwalo herself suspects it was more probably her refusal to release what she described as hidden pork from the controversial Pork Barrel Fund to members of the congress.
 
She strongly maintained that the money in the Pork Barrel Fund is for social welfare and development and should be released against budget for specific projects not just for old time’s sake.
 
Fundamentally, the woman who is described by some senators as driven by competence and compassion is being told that if there is no Pork Barrel then there will be no social service.
 
Bayan Muna, a social reform party, says more than a quarter of operating funds for 66 regional and special state hospitals have disappeared.
 
On the housing front, a think tank explained that the combined 2018 budget of six agencies dropped from US$296 million ($2.2 billion) to only US$88 million ($682 million), affecting 1.5 million informal settler families.
 
In contrast, the executive department added US$400 million ($3.1 billion) to the national police budget, mostly for intelligence funds often beyond the reach of state auditors and hidden by mysterious security concerns.
 
Other casualties of Ockham’s Razor include the biggest research institute for tropical medicine and four regional hospitals in some of the country’s poorest regions that saw huge budget drops.
 
Bayan Muna says the budget for disease surveillance has been slashed by half and funds for the prevention and control of infectious diseases like HIV-AIDS, food and water borne bacteria, as well as dengue fever, which killed more 1,000 people last year, have decreased by 14 per cent.
 
The service monitoring food and health products lost 70 per cent of its budget. The Food and Drug Administration lost its entire maintenance and other operating expenses, leaving it only with income from licencing, registration and regulatory fees.
 
A report from the Ibon Foundation says the government has reduced housing funds by more than 70 per cent and the National Housing Authority, which builds shelters for the poor, suffered an 82 per cent drop.
 
Of its remaining budget, 72 per cent is reserved for housing of soldiers and police; barely a quarter will go to relocation of informal settlers affected by big infrastructure projects.
 
Ibon pointed out that the new budget ignores 1.5 million informal settlers, a third from the national capital. Early this year, the urban poor group, Kadamay, had occupied 1,000 empty, decaying homes rejected by military and police recipients due to substandard construction.
 
Father Pete Montallana, who works with the urban poor, said the president has reneged on his campaign pledge and warned of a backlash from the millions of poor who voted him to office last year.

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