August 24, 2013 · Posted in: 2013 Elections, Access to Information, Civil Society, Congress Watch, Free Expression - Asia, Freedom of Information, General, Governance, Investigative Reports, Media, Money Politics, Noynoy Watch
BUDGET SCAMS, pork by any other name, who should stand trial — the pain and the rage against the controversies of recent weeks could, and should, end in a few good things for the Filipino people.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) law tops the list as an imperative in outing the truth to all these issues, according to the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition.
In a statement released on Friday, the Coalition of over 160 member-organizations and civil society leaders said it will join the people’s indignation rally against pork and budget scams on Monday, August 26, 2013, at the Luneta.
“We find repugnant the breakdown in government checks and accountability mechanisms, with the plunder prospering under the very noses of the Department of Budget and Management and the various implementing line agencies of the Executive, the legislators in their PDAF allocations,” the statement said.
“Now more than ever we are convinced of the urgency to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act,” the Coalition said.
However, it also noted “the glaring absence of the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) law in the measures on PDAF proposed by the President” who spoke on Friday about his intention to reform the pork barrel system.
“We reiterate our resolve to fight, alongside legislators who are showing independence and similar commitment, for the passage of an effective and empowering FOI law. This is our contribution to the various citizens’ initiatives to push for the accountability of all those involved in the plunder, and to finally put a stop to the budget scams, whether in PDAF or elsewhere, that have bled our public resources,” the Coalition added.
The PCIJ is a founding member of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition that recently filed a People’s FOI bill with both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
What follows is the full text of the Coalition’s statement:
FOI advocates joining Luneta indignation on budget scam
The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition heeds the spontaneous call for a people’s march to Luneta on August 26. We join the people in expressing collective indignation over the large-scale budget scam reported by various media outfits and by the Commission on Audit (COA), and currently under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
While we are still far from knowing the complete facts of this controversy, it is already established that corrupt individuals have systematically created bogus non-government organizations or foundations for the purpose of plundering hard-earned taxpayers’ money through ghost projects, under-deliveries, or overpricing in the implementation of the Priority Development Assistant Fund (PDAF).
Already the public rage is bearing positive government response. In addition to the ongoing investigation by the DOJ, the Senate has reversed its earlier decision not to conduct its own investigation. The President has also proposed a “new mechanism” that will embody changes in project scope and budget releases.
Such initial positive responses from the different government agencies, however, should further stoke rather than dampen the spontaneous action in Luneta on August 26. We have just begun to scratch the surface of the issue.
For one, the question of what to ultimately do about the system of pork barrel remains up in the air. For another, the investigations are still at the preliminary stages, with more questions remaining unanswered and details still to uncover before we can even proceed to the stage of full accountability.
Equally important, we find repugnant the breakdown in government checks and accountability mechanisms, with the plunder prospering under the very noses of the Department of Budget and Management and the various implementing line agencies of the Executive, the legislators in their PDAF allocations, the Commission on Audit, and the Ombudsman, and with applicable safeguards such as the procurement law.
If such breakdown of checks and accountability mechanisms can happen to PDAF constituting less than 1.5 percent of the total government budget, how can we be assured that no such breakdown happens in the bigger 98.5 percent of the budget? We note, for instance, that the fertilizer fund scam that appears to have used similar modus operandi happened with agency budget and not PDAF. While the COA special audit covered expenditures made prior to 2010, we are deluding ourselves if we think that similar schemes just magically disappeared with the change of administration.
Now more than ever we are convinced of the urgency to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. We cannot help but observe the glaring absence of the passage of the FOI law in the measures on PDAF proposed by the President. True, the measures reiterate the ongoing program of proactive disclosure by the DBM on the budget, but we emphasize that such proactive transparency, largely limited to general or aggregate allocations and spending or listing of projects, is not enough to allow citizens to get to the bottom of scams.
While these provide leads, we need to complement them with request-based access to information to be able to dig deeper. The People’s FOI Bill seeks to address this, but it is also the potential effectiveness of FOI in mitigating scams that appears to be the reason why it has been facing determined resistance across government administrations.
We reiterate our resolve to fight, alongside legislators who are showing independence and similar commitment, for the passage of an effective and empowering FOI law. This is our contribution to the various citizens’ initiatives to push for the accountability of all those involved in the plunder, and to finally put a stop to the budget scams, whether in PDAF or elsewhere, that have bled our public resources.
In relation to the FOI legislative process, we are happy to note that Senator Grace Poe, Chairperson of the Committee on Public Information at the Senate, is already in the process of scheduling the first committee hearing on the FOI Bills. We hope for a prompt passage of FOI in the Senate, to allow everyone to focus on overcoming the roadblocks that historically characterize the legislative process on FOI at the House of Representatives.
For the August 26 march, we come in solidarity with citizens who choose to take action, and encourage others to do the same. Our contingent will assemble at Leasing Boniface at 9 a.m, and we will then march by 10 a.m. to Luneta to join the people’s gathering.
Stop the budget scams! Deepen, expand and promptly complete the investigation! Prosecute those found to be culpable! Pass the People’s FOI Act!