As they loudly claim that aid is coming, the Duterte administration and Congress have quietly made a P54.6-billion insertion into the Bayanihan 3 bill that is supposedly all about pandemic response.
The P54.6-billion amount is not small. It is larger than many items in the Bayanihan 3 like the P30-billion for special cash assistance through the DSWD; P30-billion for the agri-fishery sector; P25-billion for displaced workers; P20-billion for wage subsidies; and P5.6-billion for public school teachers’ internet connectivity needs.
According to reports, the only item in Bayanihan 3 that’s larger than the P54.6-billion insertion is the P216-billion that would go to P2,000 cash grants to be given to each Filipino. In other words, the insertion could be the second largest item or second priority of government.
One of the authors of the Bayanihan 3 bill admits that the insertion was nowhere to be found in any of the six related bills that were consolidated into the current version.
Underreported and under-scrutinized, the P54.6-billion insertion would go to pensions of police, military and uniformed personnel. Members of both houses of Congress and concerned citizens should press the removal of this insertion that wittingly or unwittingly takes advantage of the pandemic response.
The insertion of the P54.6-billion for police and military pensions into what is supposed to be a pandemic response highlight the sense of priorities of the Duterte administration and Congress. It is nearly ten times the amount allotted for the online teaching needs of public school teachers, and almost twice the aid for the agriculture and fisheries sector. Only a paltry amount was given in aid to some transport workers, even though the government has largely banned most public transportation nationwide, pushing hundreds of thousands of transport workers way below the poverty line.
We have to stress here that the Duterte administration’s COVID-related stimulus and aid packages, as approved by Congress, are already the second lowest in the entire Southeast Asia region.
Most countries in the region and the world are investing heavily, by the hundreds of billions of dollars, to provide assistance to workers, farmers, the unemployed, the middle class and entrepreneurs. This is on top of massive new spending on public health, medicine and science.
The Duterte administration’s total spending is already small compared to most countries and especially if based on the needs of Filipinos, and yet the government finds it convenient to obscenely insert a pandemic-unrelated expense in the Bayanihan 3 bill.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco had earlier filed a supplemental budget bill for the exact same amount and for the same purpose. Can’t the pro-Duterte supermajority in Congress pass this supplemental budget bill on its own merits, and not insert it in the Bayanihan 3?
The ballooning pension payouts for police, military and other uniformed personnel is an issue that should be separate from the pandemic response. Ditto for the decision of Congress to cut budget allocations for the pensions under both ousted Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the current Speaker. There should be open and publicized deliberations on the why the pension arrears have ballooned in the first place.
Military authorities should be made to explain the Commission on Audit’s report that found P232-million in pension payments going to dead recipients with no qualified beneficiaries.
“Overpayment to dead pensioners is a perennial problem because of ineffective monitoring system in keeping track of the real status of pensioners and defective pension information system structure,” according to COA.
What’s the plan of government for financing the annual P850-billion pension of police, military and other uniformed personnel? That’s just P150-billion shy of P1-trillion!
This and many other issues surrounding police and military pensions should be treated separately from any bill on pandemic response. Health workers, labor, transport workers, farmers and fisherfolk, teachers, students and youth, the urban poor, the middle class, performing artists, SMEs, and families of OFWs should be our top priorities now. The inefficient and bloated pension funds for the military and police should not be sneaked into a pandemic response bill like a thief in the night.
There’s still time to thwart this. Contact members of Congress and senators. Spread the word and campaign among concerned citizens. Be vigilant and fight for adequate pandemic aid for all, sans corruption and insertions.