Aquino: New anomalies uncovered will ‘shock’ nation

Aquino: New anomalies uncovered will ‘shock’ nation
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III said Friday his Cabinet uncovered a number of new anomalies committed during the administration of his predecessor that “even those of you in the know will be shocked.”

Aquino said he would discuss some of the anomalies in his first State of the Nation Address on Monday but gave the press a preview of the salient points at the turnover of the top Army post in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.

He mentioned in particular the depletion of the P1.54-trillion 2010 national budget and calamity fund.

“Halos nilimas na po ang pondong dapat magagamit natin sa darating na buwan [They’ve nearly bailed out the funds we should be using in the coming months],” he told Army officers and men at the Army Grandstand.

“Not even half of the storms that we’re expecting this year have come in. So when I call on you for search and rescue operations, you will be armed only with your heart and courage because of the dearth of funds and resources,” he added in Filipino.

In a briefing later at the Army Officers’ Club, Mr. Aquino confirmed reports that P949.2 billion of the 2010 budget had been released, and that only P591.4 billion remained.

But the problem was, P300 billion of the remaining balance has been earmarked for “automatic appropriations,” leaving the Aquino administration with only more than P100 billion at its disposal, he said.

“If you have 10 percent left to take care of the last six months, that’s a bit bloody. But again I will emphasize to them to resharpen their pencils. Can you do the computation again so that we will precisely know what’s left?” he said, referring to budget officials.

Otherwise, this would necessitate “a lot of austerity,” he said.

The bulk of the P949.2 billion went to the payment of salaries and personnel services, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said.

In the same briefing, Mr. Aquino said that the depletion of this year’s calamity fund was just as surprising.

As of June, the government had used up P1.4 billion of the calamity fund, leaving a balance of P592 million, budget officials said.

“When ‘Ondoy’ and ‘Pepeng’ struck, it was revealed that there were no more funds… I asked them what other calamities visited the Philippines that would necessitate the use of the fund. It turned it was the repair of infrastructure for the previous years,” Mr. Aquino said.

“They did it again this year. So it’s depleted again. But it seems there was a particular district that benefited but was not affected by Ondoy. Twenty percent of the funds allegedly went to the singular district,” he added.

When pressed if the district was in Pampanga, home province of former president, now Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Mr. Aquino said: “Can I tell you on Monday?”

“But let me assure you, there will be a minimum of five [anomalies] we have uncovered. You will be very, very surprised at the things we have discovered. I think the common reaction was: ‘What, they did that?’ There’s no sense. There’s no rhyme or reason,” he said.

He later added: “I can’t give you every detail [of the Sona]. It’s still a work in progress. It might be totally overhauled by Monday. But I assure you, even those of you here, you will be shocked.”

The national budget will be a key point in his 30-minute Sona, which was re-written for the fifth time Friday and which is entirely in Filipino, Malacañang said.

Mr. Aquino will report the state of government resources, propose “doable solutions” to a host of problems given the budget constraints, and push for his legislative agenda, according to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“As I said in the beginning we have to ascertain what the problems are. Therefore these problems will point to certain solutions that would be best to solve… all of these problems,” Mr. Aquino said when asked about his message to the Filipinos on Monday.

“If you misidentify the problem you are guaranteed to not come up with a correct solution and you will exacerbate the problem,” he added.

Mr. Aquino admitted that the problems left behind by the Arroyo administration “left a lot of us gasping for breath and aghast at what has been done.”

“In terms of gaining knowledge Monday’s Sona speech will really set the truth on so many things,” he said.

The ProPinoy Project