Tuesday, 27 July 2010

SONA: two views

(I) Aquino cites problems, solutions
Blasts erring gov’t officials
Manila Bulletin

President Benigno Aquino III Monday pledged to put an end to wastage of public finances and run a clean and efficient government, as he deplored certain policies and official acts of his predecessor and the government agencies under her.

The President spent the first half of his first State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress baring six anomalies allegedly committed by the Arroyo government before he laid down his solutions to the nation's woes.

Among these were the nearly depleted national budget, midnight appointments in the state-run water agency, and other financial troubles in agencies concerned with infrastructure, power, and rice importation.

Mr. Aquino, who enjoys a high trust rating based on latest opinion polls, said his administration is committed to take the “straight path” in growing the economy while curbing poverty and corruption in the country.

He also divulged plans to forge "private-public partnerships" to fund infrastructure projects and other social services without hurting government finances. Several bills seeking to strengthen the economy and peace and order were presented in the speech that lasted 36 minutes and punctuated by 31 applauses.

While his government deals with the daunting challenges ahead, he appealed to the people to be ready to take “sacrifices,” particularly in finding solutions rather than engage in “never-ending complaints.”

“For a long time, our country lost its way in the crooked path. As days go by (since I became President), the massive scope of the problems we have inherited becomes much clearer. I could almost feel the weight of my responsibilities,” he said.

"This report is merely a glimpse of our situation. It is not the entire picture of the crises we are facing. The reality was hidden from our people," he added.

Aquino cited the depletion of the 2010 national budget. The President said in the first six years of this year, government expenditure exceeded revenues. The deficit further increased to P196.7 billion. ”Our collection targets, which lack P23.8 billion, were not fully met, while we went beyond our spending by P45.1 billion,” he said.

Of the 2010 national budget of P1.54 trillion, only P100 billion or 6.5% of the total budget can be used for the remaining six months of the current year. “Roughly 1% of the total budget is left for each of the remaining month. Where did the funds go?”

Of the P2-billion calamity fund, around P1.4 billion or 70 percent was already spent “at a time when the rainy season has yet to set in, P1.4 billion or 70% was already spent,” according to the President.

He also bared that Pampanga, home province of former President Arroyo, received P108 million from the calamity fund. Of this, he said P105 million was released to one district on election month, apparently alluding to the second district of Pampanga.

He said his government will step up the campaign against tax evaders, citing the filing of a new case every week by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. He also pledged to stop extra judicial killings, saying his government will make murderers accountable.

In fighting corruption in government, he said he will sign an executive order forming the Truth Commission to be led by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. “We will search for the truth on the alleged wrongdoing committed in the last nine years,” he said.

Admitting government funds are insufficient, he said public-private partnership is the “new and creative approach” to the nation’s long-standing problems on education, infrastructure, health, military, police, among others.

As part of his planned public-private partnership, Mr. Aquino said that there have been many proposals from local and foreign investors to provide the country’s needs.

“Although no contract has been signed yet, I can say that ongoing talks with interested investors will yield fruitful outcomes,” he said, citing a looming investment to build an expressway from Manila traversing Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, up to Cagayan Valley, “without the government having to spend a single peso.”

On national defense, he said that an investor is interested in leasing the Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard and the Naval Station in Fort Bonifacio, adding it plans to take care of the funding necessary to transfer the Navy Headquarters to Camp Aguinaldo . “Immediately, we will be given 100 million dollars. Furthermore, they will give us a portion of their profits from their businesses that would occupy the land they will rent. In short, we will meet our needs without spending, and we will also earn,” he said.

In order to attact more investors and generate more jobs, the President vowed to streamline the process of doing business in the country “to make them predictable, reliable, and efficient for those who want to invest.”

He said the Department of Trade and Industry has cut down to 15 minutes the process of registering business names from a minimum of four to eight hours depending on the day.

“What used to be a check list of thirty-six documents will be shortened to a list of six, and the old eight-page application form will be whittled down to one page,” he added.

He appealed to the local government units to review their own procedures while the government looks for more ways to streamline our processes to make business start-ups easier.

He disclosed plans to convene the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to press for the passage of key legislations.

Among the priority bills are Fiscal Responsibility Bill, amendment of the procurement law, anti-trust law, national land use bill, National Defense Act, Whistleblower’s Bill, and Witness Protection Program. “There is a need to review our laws. I call on our lawmakers to begin a re-codification of our laws to ensure harmony and eliminate contradictions,” he said.

On the peace process, he reiterated his commitment to talk peace with the Muslim separatist group and the communist rebels.

“We will learn from the mistakes of the past administration, which sprung upon the people an agreement reached without consultation from all concerned. We are not blind to the fact that it was done with political motivation, and that the interest behind it was not that of the people,” he said.

He said now is a time for sacrifice to facilitate a better future. Saying freedom comes responsibility to do good to others and country, he called on the media, especially those in radio and print, to the block-timers and those in community newspapers, to “take the cudgels in policing your own.”

“May you give new meaning to the principles of your vocation: to provide clarity to pressing issues; to be fair and truthful in your reporting, and to raise the level of discourse with the public,” he said.

Apart from the depleted national coffers, the Presiden also disclosed the financial troubles of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. He called on MWSS top officials to step down for their extravagant allowances and benefits.

“Just recently, people lined up for water while the leadership of the MWSS rewarded itself even though the pensions of retired employees remain unpaid,” he said.

Mr. Aquino also said he was shocked that each member of the MWSS board of trustees receives R2.5 million a year exclusive of car service, technical assistance, and loans. Watersheds intended to ensure adequate water supply were converted into housing for the top officials of the MWSS.

“We cannot remove them from their positions quickly because they are among the midnight appointees of former President Arroyo. We are investigating all of these things. But if they have any shame left, they should voluntarily relinquish their positions,” he said.

As for the anomalous infrastructure funds, the President said the past government funded only 28 projects of the 246 priority safety projects amounting to P425 million. He said 218 projects were replaced with 70 infrastructure projects that weren’t in the plans.

“The 425 million pesos originally asked for became 480 million pesos, increasing because of projects allocated for a favored few. These projects make no sense: unstudied and unprepared for, sprouting like mushrooms,” he said.

Putting a stop to these irregular projects, he declared that under his administration, “there will be no quotas, there will be no overpricing, the funds of the people will be spent for the people.”

Five days before the past administration ended, Mr. Aquino disclosed that they ordered the release of P3.5 billion for the rehabilitation of those affected by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

“This was supposed to fund eighty-nine projects. But nineteen of these projects amounting to 981 million pesos didn’t go through public bidding. Special Allotment Release Orders hadn’t even been released and yet the contracts were already signed,” he said.

He cited Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson for stopping these anomalous transactions, saying all must go through the proper bidding, and the funds will be used to provide relief to typhoon victims.

The President also accused the past government of sending National Power Corporation to near financial ruin.

He said from 2001 to 2004, the government forced Napocor to sell electricity at a loss to prevent increases in electricity rates. “The real motivation for this is that they were preparing for the election. As a result, in 2004, Napocor slumped deeply in debt. The government was obligated to shoulder the200 billion pesos it owed,” he said.

“What the public thought they saved from electricity, we are now paying for using public coffers. Not only are we paying for the cost of electricity; we are also paying for the interest arising from the debt,” he said.

The President said if the money borrowed was used properly, there would be added assurance that constant supply of electricity is available. “However, this decision was based on bad politics, not on the true needs of the people. The people, after having to sacrifice, suffered even more,” he said.

Another anomaly committed by the past government was in the operations of the Metro Rail Transit. The President said the government tried again “to buy the people’s love” by keeping the fare low.

“In effect, the guarantee given to the operator that he will still be able to recoup his investment was not fulfilled. Because of this, Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines were ordered to purchase the MRT. The money of the people was used in exchange for an operation that was losing money,” he said.

On the dismal funds of the National Food Authority, he said the past government has imported rice more than what was needed.

In 2004, the government bought 900,000 metric tons of rice despite a shortage of only 117,000 metric tons. In 2007, around 1.827 million metric tons of rice were purchased to meet a shortage of only 589,000 metric ton.


(II) No irregularity in gov't funds cited in SONA — Horn
Manila Bulletin

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's spokeswoman said on Tuesday that President Noynoy Aquino's State of the Nation Address (SONA) did not clarify which figures he was citing when he said only P100 billion remains in the annual budget.

Elena Bautista-Horn said Mr. Aquino's figures are different from the official figures on government expenditures from January to June of this year, which were released by the Bureau of Treasury, the agency that records the actual spending of the national government.

The Bureau of Treasury released the official figures of the government's actual disbursements from the national budget last July 21, 2010 when it was already under Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

"From January to June 2010, the total disbursements amounted to P788.8 billion — 13% higher than the comparable disbursements in 2009. Excluding interest payments, the total disbursements increased by 16%. Actual disbursements in June amounted to P126.7 billion," the bureau's statement said.

Horn said Mr. Aquino should clarify how he arrived at the figures that only P100 billion in the national budget are available for his government for the remainder of the year, because the official figures indicate that about 49 percent of the P1.54 trillion national budget remains unspent.

The Liberal Party, which controls the House of Representatives, has also offered to give a supplemental budget to Mr. Aquino's administration this year, though it is not yet clear whether the national budget had indeed been depleted.

"He said he would give more details aside from what he had already announced to the press even before he delivered the SONA, but he said nothing new," Horn said.

Horn also disputed Mr. Aquino's allegations that P105 million in calamity funds were released for the 2nd district of Pampanga, which is now represented in Congress by Mrs. Arroyo.

Horn said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has confirmed that no calamity funds were ever released to the 2nd district of Pampanga this year, as attested to by six mayors of the municipalities in the district.

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