Business World, 22 October 2013


The Aquino administration is using the sad plight of the people of Bohol and Cebu as a way of deodorizing the much-criticized and legally flawed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). What remains of the P7.5-billion Calamity Fund and the P3.7-billion Quick Response Funds embedded in the budgets of seven agencies? In the absence of clear proof that the both funds have been exhausted, there is no need to augment the P11.195-billion Calamity Fund and the Quick Response Funds.

With two months to go before the end of the year, and the approval of the 2014 budget imminent, the Aquino administration may choose to wait for the more expensive reconstruction work. After all, the programs of work and the bid documents have to be prepared, and the specific project have to be awarded, before actual civil works could be started.

The sum of the Calamity Fund (CF) and Quick Response Funds (QRFs) in 2013 is P11.195 billion, 16.7% higher than the corresponding amount in 2012.

Some people are asking: what happened to the Calamity Fund this year?

Not many people know that in addition to the P7.5 billion lump-sum appropriations, there are some P3.695-billion in quick response funds embedded in the budgets of seven line agencies.

The confusion on the status of the calamity-related funds arose from the dissonant voices of top government officials.

The Malacanang spokesman talked of unlimited funds available for the earthquake victims, while the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) secretary hinted that the CF Is close to being exhausted.

Some presidential allies in Congress suggest that the unreleased balance of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF, the subject of the Supreme Court’s TRO) should be realigned to augment the Calamity Fund. Others suggest the use of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to augment the CF. Was another DAP created in 2013?

Both suggestions are clearly desperate attempts to deodorize the much criticized, illegal, and odious PDAF and DAP.

The P7.5-billion Calamity Fund is appropriated for “aid, relief and rehabilitation services to communities/areas affected by man-made and natural calamities, and repair and reconstruction of permanent structures, including other capital expenditures for disaster operation, and rehabilitation activities.”

Have these stand-by funds been exhausted? What’s the remaining balance of the CF to date? Senators and representatives should also know because the DBM is required to submit a quarterly report to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee on the status of budget execution. If only legislators would read these reports!

The priority in the use of the Fund is aid and relief of the people affected by calamities. And for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the priority should be repair. The reconstruction and permanent improvement could wait for another two months.

In addition to the CF and QRFs, the Aquino administration has a lot of tools to address the misery of the victims — the loss of life, livelihood, and property.

For example, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) may choose to advance the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) entitlements of those in the program in the affected communities. I estimate that of the P44.5 billion budget for CCT authorized for the whole year, some P2.5 billion may go to beneficiaries in Region VII (Central Visayas).

Moreover, there are large chunks of public works appropriations in the 2013 General Appropriations Act for Region VII, a large sum of which remains uncommitted and unspent. Below are some examples:

  • National arterial and secondary roads and bridges: P823,990,000
  • Rehabilitation/reconstruction/upgrading of damaged paved national roads: P487,223,000
  • Secondary (rehabilitation, reconstruction,upgrading): P754,216,000
  • Traffic easing projects (all in Cebu): P999,247,000
  • Infrastructure projects to declared tourism destinations: P696,000,000

Speedy implementations of all these projects would create a lot of employment opportunities in the affected region. Providing meaningful, decent jobs is perhaps the best way of helping these people in distress.

In addition, the Government Service Insurance System and the Social Security System — pension funds for government and private sector workers, respectively — may provide salary loans for employees who are victims of the earthquakes in the Bohol and Cebu areas.

And in the event that the CF and the QRF were truly exhausted or proven to be inadequate, the President has another option. He has the option of submitting to Congress a request for a supplemental budget. It’s been done before. It could be done again.

I’m confident that Congress could and would be willing to approve the request for a supplemental budget in less than a week. And should Congress be adjourned, the President may even call for a special session for the purpose. This, I think, is the prim, proper, and legal way of helping the victims of the Bohol and Cebu tragedy.