Akbayan Partylist called for "radical reforms" in the government's budgeting system as a response to the P 10 billion pork barrel scandal allegedly involving several lawmakers engaged in the channeling of funds to bogus projects through fake non-government organizations.

The group said it plans to file three legislative bills at the start of the 16th Congress to "radically reform and democratize" the budget process and pave the way for the "strategic, careful and efficient" abolition of the pork barrel system.

"Tip of the iceberg"

"We reiterate our call for the abolition of the pork barrel. However, this must go hand in hand with a package of reforms. The corruption exposed in the PDAF is only the tip of the iceberg. Our larger concern must be the government's budgeting system, which unfortunately is still wanting in more participative mechanisms and remains highly vulnerable to corrupt practices," Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez said.

"Innovative ways"

Gutierrez said that the government's budget process remains susceptible to attempts to subject it towards corruption. He said that even without the pork barrel, crooked public officials can still find innovative ways to pursue their corrupt practices because of weaknesses in the law budget governing allocation, release and use.

"The pork barrel system is just the offspring of a largely inequitable budget and fiscal system. As such, we must implement the policies necessary so that its abolition doesn't breed new forms of corruption and patronage. If not, a simple abolition of the pork barrel devoid of budgetary reforms would not necessarily end corruption. In the end, the people still lose and the unscrupulous still prevail," Gutierrez explained.

A bill to institutionalize people's participation in the budget process

Gutierrez said the first of the three bills that they will file seeks to institutionalize mechanisms in allowing people's participation in the crafting of the annual national budget at all levels especially in the development and budget coordination committee (DBCC).

"One of the best ways to curb corrupt practices and other irregularities in the planning, disbursement and management of the people's money is to involve the people themselves in the crafting of the national budget. The budget process must not be limited to the executive and legislative branches along with the different agencies. Being the budget of the people, the public through legitimate civil society groups and other people's organizations must be at the center of its preparation and administration," Gutierrez said.

Impoundment control, savings and augmentation bills

Gutierrez said Akbayan will also file an Impoundment Control Bill as well as a Savings and Augmentation Bill.

Gutierrez said the impoundment control bill aims to ensure the proper limits and procedures are put in place in the exercise in the president's authority to defer, rescind and reserve expenditures already approved by Congress.

The Akbayan lawmaker said that in many cases, most prevalent during the Arroyo government, the uncertainty in the release of allotment, government instrumentalities and other local government units become vulnerable to patronage politics and other corrupt practices as they fall prey to the whimsical exercise of deferment, recession and reversion of funding from the executive.

"Having filed a similar bill before when he was still a senator, we are confident that President Aquino will support this even as it clips his discretionary control over the budget," Gutierrez said.

On the other hand, Gutierrez said the saving and augmentation bill aims to thwart the unscrupulous use of budget devoting amounts to certain items inconsistent with the objectives for which the annual appropriations was based. He said the realignment of savings has been a source of corruption in the budget system, particularly under Arroyo.

"The bill seeks to regulate the proper use of savings as well as set the limits in the augmentation of budget provided in the annual appropriations law so as to protect the people's money from dubious allocations and reallocations ,' Gutierrez said.

"Like Hydra"

Akbayan said these are some of the important policies that must be instituted to lay the solid groundwork for the total abolition of the pork barrel system.

"Fighting corruption is like Hercules' struggle against the mythical creature, Hydra. Unless we cut the central head off, our gains will remain momentary. What's frightening is that it might take a turn for the worse. To effectively curb corruption created by the pork barrel system, we must do the hard work of dismantling the very policy structures that spawned the PDAF. One of the strategic ways of safeguarding the people's money is by reforming and further democratizing the government's budget system," Gutierrez said. ###