Abad under fire
DBM chief takes flak over scrapping of overseas absentee voting budget, P47-M DAP listed for Joker
by Mario B. Casayuran & Ellson A. Quismoro (Manila Bulletin)
September 27, 2014
Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, already under fire over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), again took the flak yesterday over his decision to scrap the P89.6-million budget for overseas absentee voting and allocate P47 million in DAP funds to former senator Joker Arroyo.
An irate Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said Abad should be made to explain why the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) dropped the overseas absentee voting registration budget being asked by Commission on Elections (Comelec) given the already dismal turnout of Filipino migrant voters the past few years.
Bello said millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) could be disenfranchise unless the P89.6-million allocation is reinstated in next year’s budget.
“This is a slap in the face… to the lawmakers and the OFWs who fought for this law,” said Bello, chairman of the House Overseas Workers Affairs Committee, during a press conference at the House of Representatives yesterday.
The third-term party-list congressman said the P86.9 million intended for the implementation of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, as requested by Comelec for its 2015 budget, was “arbitrarily” deleted by the DBM, which Bello cited has been beset with transparency woes.
“I’m glad that the DAP issue has brought to the fore the non-transparency of the DBM,” a visibly angry Bello told reporters.
‘ABAD’S BAD DAP’
Arroyo, the executive secretary of former President Corazon C. Aquino, lambasted Abad for allocating to him P47 million in DAP funds. He said this is the same amount he asked Senate to appropriate for his projects but was not included 2013 national budget.
“Abad was being disingenuous. Congress disapproved my proposal for P47-million funding. The budget secretary, in effect, overruled the judgment of Congress and appropriated P47 million to me from DAP,” Arroyo said in his press statement titled, “Abad’s bad DAP.”
Arroyo maintained that he never asked for and received the supposed P47-million DAP fund. However, Arroyo was listed by the DBM as among the recipients of DAP funds.
Abad, “by his lonesome self and at his level, does not have the authority to allocate at his discretion funds for certain projects and assign its disbursement to legislators, LGUs (local government units), and other agencies. This is the core issue of DAP,” Arroyo pointed out.
“Was Mr. Abad’s initiative bore out of altruism? No, it’s evil geniusness. I voted to acquit CJ (Renato) Corona in the impeachment trial. To show that the administration is impartial, Mr. Abad bestowed upon me, for appearances, P47 million of DAP funds to squander even if it did not even pass through me,” he added.
Arroyo said it would do well for the Supreme Court to take judicial notice into the “humungous amounts” involved so see how Abad distributed “with complete abandon” government funds not approved by Congress.
“We are talking of an estimated of P150 million of DAP. Nobody knows the exact figure because DBM has not been forthcoming,” Arroyo said.
Meanwhile, the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, considered a milestone upon its passage in 2003, recognized the right of Filipino migrants to choose their leaders. Amendments to the law in 2013 supposedly further strengthened this right of OFWs.
The Act covers the 10.5 million Filipino migrants spread across 238 countries all over the world.
“We want to make it clear that the right to vote by OFWs is guaranteed by the Constitution. The law only implements it. The original law says the appropriation for the implementation of the Act should be in the GAA (General Appropriations Act),” said OFW Noel Escuera in the same press conference.
Bello agreed with Escuera’s observation, saying “DBM is doing a violation of the law. Abad should be made to account.”
Ellene Sana, executive director of Center for Migrant Advocacy – an OFW rights advocacy group – said many OFWs feel neglected with the turn of events. “Many Filipinos abroad who have heard the bad news feel hurt. They feel neglected by their own country. This is no way to treat our OFWs, who we like to call heroes.”
Sana noted that the implementation of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act has been hampered by the lack of budget, particularly for information dissemination back in the 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013 elections.
Bello said that the turnout for the absentee voters in 2013 was 20 percent lower compared to that of the previous election, which goes to show that “agencies do not have enough funds.”
Escuera, for his part, said the budget deficiency would severely impact the mobile registration program of the government, meaning there would be even less incentive for OFWs to exercise their right to vote.
Meanwhile, Bello called on his fellow legislators to reverse DBM’s “castration” of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act by ensuring the reinstatement of its P89.6-million budget.
“While the Senate has already made assurances in restoring the budget, I expect no less from my fellow legislators in the Lower House to do the same during the period of amendments and during the bicameral meetings,” Bello said.
“Both Houses passed a law recognizing our OFWs democratic rights. Now, both Houses must ensure it is back by sufficient funds for its implementation.”
The House is expected the pass the proposed 2015 national budget on second reading early Saturday morning.