(UPDATE) The Philippines’ missing funds amount not only to billions but to a trillion.
Under the Arroyo administration alone, as President Benigno Aquino III claims, funds lost to corrupt practices totaled P836 billion so far and may even exceed P1 trillion.
Speaking before the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals Wednesday, Aquino claimed the pork barrel scam is but a “symptom” of a bigger scheme to capture public funds.
“We have not yet unearthed everything, but already, based on our initial findings, we know that the amount may exceed one trillion pesos,” the President said.
“In the almost ten year-period of the past administration, the average annual budget was around P1 trillion pesos,” Aquino said.
“Is this not appalling—that funds equivalent to the national budget for just one year may have been fallen into their hands, for use wherever they wanted?” he added.
He identified four mechanisms to capture public funds including:
-the reenactment of the national budget
-the misuse of Malampaya funds
-the manipulation of automatic appropriations
-transactions for rice imports
Aquino said the national budget was only enacted on time once under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s watch, leading to the “reenactment” the previous year’s budget.
“Due to the reenactment, there were projects that had already been finished the year prior that were still allocated funds,” Aquino said.
These funds were then considered “savings,” he said, which the Executive department can spend as it pleases.
Aquino made the accusations as his own Cabinet is being questioned for releasing funds supposedly as bribes for lawmakers who impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Militant groups on Wednesday filed plunder complaints against Aquino, members of his Cabinet and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Comparing his administration to Arroyo’s, Aquino said Congress under his watch has not failed to pass the national budget on time. “No reenactments were done,” he added.
The President added the Arroyo administration also treated the Malampaya fund—royalties earned from the Malampaya gas field—as discretionary funds.
The fund, which is supposed to be used only for the energy sector, was appropriated to other entries under “other such purposes” and was distributed to lawmakers.
“In other words, the Malampaya fund became much like PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund]—used for politics, to pad the pockets of allied lawmakers,” Aquino said.
The Arroyo government also manipulated automatic allocations for debt servicing, Aquino claimed, by using foreign exchange assumptions which cannot be increased.
“So the past Congresses doctored the assumptions to lower our payments for foreign debt. After doing that, they would have funds to allocate to other things,” he noted.
Another indirect means to capture funds, Aquino said, was the “gross over importation of rice at higher prices.”
The National Food Administration’s debt, Aquino said, ballooned to P177 billion in 2010 from P23.33 billion in 2001. He added that P123 billion was incurred only during Arroyo’s last two years in power.
Aquino said, “We are not yet done searching for answers: who was behind this, what happened, where did the money go, who benefited from this scheme, and who is truly guilty?”
He meanwhile assured Filipinos that his administration is implementing reforms to stop such mechanisms and the “same type of mentality within the system.”
Among the reforms he highlighted were the abolition of the PDAF, a hand-off policy on debt servicing allocations and a revamp among Customs officials.
“I have removed opportunities for corruption; I did this of my own volition, according to my mandate, with no one pressuring me,” the President said.
“All the powers at my disposal to gain funds and dole them out where I wanted, I have consistently reduced,” he added.