Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Wednesday clarified that targeted financial assistance should continue but not the general “ayuda” similar to what was provided under the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws.
Diokno made the clarification at the Senate after Senator Alan Peter Cayetano questioned his earlier remark at the House of Representative where he said that “the giving out of ayuda in relation to the pandemic is already a waste of public funds.”
“So I just like to clarify with Secretary Diokno kung tama interpretation ko that ‘yung ayaw nating ayuda eh yung dole-out, pero yung targeted can be an effective [tool]?” Cayetano asked.
The senator emphasized that if the government will target the right families and the right businesses such as sari-sari stores, eateries as well as the public utility vehicle drivers, the assistance can be an “effective tool” for recovery.
He also pointed out that it is a “form of good governance.”
“I just like to put it there because I will not stop in asking for ayuda but I will probably modify that, we will do it in a very targeted way,” Cayetano said.
In response, Diokno remained firm that “pandemic-related ayudas at this time is a waste of fund.”
“It is in the nature of Bayanihan 1 and 2 but the targeted assistance to say, the 4Ps, those who are affected by the price of oil, the drivers, I think we should continue those. It’s not a waste,” he said.
“It’s really the giving away ayudas at this time in the same manner that we have given during the Bayanihan 1 and 2. These are the pandemic-related ayudas. I think it is really a waste of money because we have other important projects,” he added.
One of the important projects that need to be funded, he said, is the recently passed law which increases the financial assistance to indigent senior citizens to P1,000.
“We don’t even have money for that in this budget. So I would rather put the money there rather than to give a general ayuda in the pandemic sense,” Diokno said.
‘Fully recovered’ economy
The Finance secretary also insisted that the economy has already “fully recovered” and is now at the 2019 level.
“To tell the truth here, your honor, I think we have recovered already. We have fully recovered in the economic sense where at this time, the economy is at the 2019 level,” he said.
However, Senate finance committee chairman, Senator Sonny Angara, said that some sectors might not agree with Diokno.
“I think some sectors might disagree with you Secretary Ben especially the 2 million who are into poverty based on what was shown earlier. But we respect your opinion,” he said.
At the same hearing, Cayetano urged the government’s economic managers to investigate the possible existence of a syndicate allegedly behind what he called an “expanded parking” or illegal realignment of funds in the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for 2023.
Cayetano mentioned that former Senator Panfilo Lacson had already exposed the billions of pesos of “parked” funds in the 2022 budget. Now, he said, the “parking scheme is back with a vengeance.”
Based on his presentation, parking funds refer to allocations that are initially placed in a certain legislative district or department before these are siphoned off to a favored district or projects chosen by a legislator.
Meanwhile, “expanded parking” is the deliberate slashing of budgets of certain congressional districts and then negotiating its reinstatement in exchange for kickbacks and illegal commissions.
Cayetano said in his presentation that this appears to have been done at the budget preparation level and could involve tens to hundreds of billions of funds.
He presented 10 congressional districts and one region which have significant decrease in their budgets for 2023 compared to the funds provided to them under the 2022 national budget.
In his sample region, Cayetano flagged a 44.6% or P19.8 billion decrease — from the P44.380 billion alloted by the 2022 national budget to only P24.562 billion under the proposed 2023 national budget.
Cayetano said this scheme was also raised to him by one of the former members of the House of Representatives.
“So what is the problem? The problem is there is a group going around telling these districts na ibabalik namin ang pondo niyo pero contractor nila ang gagawa. So the parking scheme is back with a vengeance,” he said.
He urged the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC)
“to just preliminary look into it, to ask the right questions, do it privately whether sa cabinet or sa cluster.”
“Please look into it sirs and ma’am, and again I hope these are coincidence, rumors, frustrations,” Cayetano added. —KBK, GMA News