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The Alternative Budget Initiative: Phase 3

By Leonor Magtolis Briones
abs-cbnNEWS.com | 09/28/2008
THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNANCE

On Tuesday, September 30 , 2008 another milestone in the history of budgeting in the Philippines will take place. The civil society members of the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI) convened by Social Watch Philippines will present their alternative budget for 2009 in the areas of education, health, agriculture and the environment. ABI will also present its critique of the macroeconomic assumptions underlying the proposed budget.

The presentation marks the third year of organized citizen participation in the budget process. Citizens groups have always participated individually in the budget process. ABI is significant in that civil society organizations united and went into partnership with legislators who shared their advocacy. ABI’s advocacy is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) . Both institutions support the world wide movement for participatory budgeting.

Appropriations Committee Chair Junie Cua will continue the historic practice started by former Appropriation Committee Chair Edcel Lagman .The latter initiated the first hearing on the proposed alternative budget for the 2008 budget. Budget hearings are traditionally conducted on the Executive’s proposed budget. Last year, civil society organizations were given the opportunity to present their alternative proposal for social development to the Appropriations Committee. The legislators asked very detailed questions. They were aware of the historic implications of the hearing.

The past two experiences in participatory budgeting were different. Round 3 promises to be different also. The budget process remains the same—budget preparation, budget authorization or legislation, budget implementation, and accountability. Nevertheless, recent developments make this round interesting and different.

First, the economic environment under which the budget proposal was made is very different. The country is suffering from an economic slowdown. It is buffeted not only by physical storms but also by turmoil in the external as well as domestic economy. Thus, it is more difficult to determine with certainty the state of the economy in 2009.

Second, it is also widely believed that the 2009 budget will be an election budget. Suspicions are rife that the budget is expected to provide funds which can be diverted to finance election spending. Thus, advocates and critics of the 2009 budget are edgy. Both sides are monitoring each other.

Third, consideration of the 2009 budget is taking place amidst issues concerning the practice of “congressional insertions”. Personally, I prefer to use the words “realignment” , “reallocation” and “amendment”. Congress has the duty to carefully review the president’s budget proposal and recommend amendments. Unquestioning approval will mean that Congress is a mere rubber stamp of the Executive.

The word “insertion” appears to refer to further allocations which are made during the Bicameral Committee meetings which are not open to the public.

The bitter Senate battle on the issue of double allocations has exposed the dark side of the appropriations process which is kept from public scrutiny: the bicameral committee negotiations.

Finally, it is anticipated that the 2009 budget will provide appropriation cover for expenditures which were alleged to be without legal basis in the 2008 budget . Remember the P500 giveaway to electric consumers? It is believed that the 2009 budget will ensure that allocations for even more giveaways will be specifically mentioned this time.

It is fervently hoped that the gains in budget reform which were achieved during the last two years will be protected and even enhanced in Round 3.

The day the Young Turks sang

It was a day for music. Adel Tamano sang “I’ll Never Say Goodbye.” Gilbert Remulla crooned a popular hit. TG Guingona sang the classic Visayan song “Usahay”. Danton got away by reciting “Rain, rain go away, Bring with you, GMA.”

The occasion was the Young Turks Forum at the U.P. National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG). Adel, Gilbert, TG and Danton urged the SRO audience composed of students from U.P., Polytechnic University of the Philippines, City University of Caloocan, New Era University and the Eulogio Rodriquez School for Science and Technology to get involved in the electoral process by registering themselves as voters, participating in discussions about national issues and voting during elections.

Manila Concert Choir provided “choral music in the grand tradition” by singing “Pambansang Awit ” in martial tempo, delivering a powerful musical invocation based on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and singing two stirring nationalistic songs—“Kayumangging Malaya” and “Lupang Hinirang”—and the pop Tagalog love song, “Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin.” More than one listener was moved to say “their hair stood on end” with Beethoven and “Lupang Hinirang.”

All in all, New Politics proved to be very enjoyable and palatable to the young with the Young Turks singing their advocacy while Manila Concert Choir’s soaring voices touched their hearts and reminded them of how wonderful it is to love God and country.

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