By Corina Olinquino | FilAm Star Correspondent
MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Speaking in front of journalists at the annual Bulong Pulungan media forum in Pasay recently, the president assured the public that his administration is wise and careful in spending the public funds.
President Noynoy Aquino did not directly refer to Vice President and presidential candidate Jejomar Binay’s accusation of his administration’s underspending in one of the latter’s recent outing in Negros Oriental’s Bais City public market.
But the president did take a jab at a former president. “If I we’re being sarcastic, you know the connector roads were promised by Marcos in 1976. In 1976 I was still in high school. Probably by 2017 most of it will already be fully operational. So I say, I never promised this but, I and my team built it. Now are we late? Maybe even before we graduated from college, it’s already late. But because it was promised to us since 1976, that’s why. But it is there and we’re not having one, we’re having two,” said President Aquino in his speech at the Bulong Pulungan media forum on GMA’s 24 Oras.
The president also admitted that it took two years for his administration to fully initiate all of the planned projects.
“But the bottom line is we didn’t have the wherewithal when we started out. We have all of the debts, none of the resources. We had a system that perhaps never punish the corrupt and therefore encourage so many corrupt officials,” Aquino added.
According to The Philippine Star, President Aquino said, “When it comes to the people’s money, I am very, very particular as to why it has to be spent. How much is being spent, and what is the return on the investment,”
In the Bulong Pulungan media forum as well, President Aquino recounted an incident to proving his point that he’s also a purposeful shopper who likes to buy items on sale. “(In) our first trip abroad to Indonesia, we went on a budget commercial flight. And we were joking that the seats were adjusted already… they were very rigid… they seemed to be for first year cadets of the PMA (Philippine Military Academy),” Aquino related to The Philippine Star.
The President also asked rhetorically, “Why is it that you keep an eagle eye on government money, but when it comes to my own money I seem to always be taken advantage of?”
“By next year I have a lot more time to be a better shopper,” he added. On GMA’s 24 Oras, Aquino also shared some plans after he stepped down from office in 2016. “I have to confess I saw Bora (Boracay). I never got to the beach, never got to the water so hopefully that would be one of them. And stay for longer than one hour,” he said.
The President also joked about spending more time finding his significant other once he stepped down in office.
Underspending – reason for slow growth
According to a post from Rappler, in the first half of 2015, the government announced it has missed the fiscal deficit target by 66%.
In a data collected from the Department of Finance by Rappler, the government has been underspending since 2012 – with the government’s steady increases in expenditures and revenue, its fiscal deficit has been decreasing since 2012.
An economists opined, “a lower than target fiscal deficit could mean the administration is unable to make use of the money collected from its citizenry to provide services and build better infrastructure.”
Economists also say that underspending has been cited as the reason for slow economic growth.
In the first quarter of 2015, Philippine economic growth slowed to a 3-year low at 5.2 percent, prompting economists and businessmen to warn that the country might struggle to reach the full-year target of 7 to 8 percent growth, posted Rappler.
“We were hopeful that the government will increase its spending, but maybe the problem lies with the disbursement. There could be delays in the budget release, as the government is now extra careful because of the controversial DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) incident,” said Alvin Ang, President of the Philippine Economic Society in a phone interview with Rappler.
“I was expecting over 6 percent GDP growth in the first quarter of 2015. Drivers should be public investments, exports, and usual consumption. Agriculture sector growth is also slow. This makes it hard to reach 8 percent GDP growth for the year,” said Rolando Dy, dean of the School of Management of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) in an interview with Rappler.
Vice President and presidential candidate Jejomar Binay has also attacked the administration against its underspending in his December 09 speech in front of the senior citizens of Bais City, Negros Oriental.
Binay accused the government of underspending the public funds in order to utilize the money for the 2016 local and national elections.
“What are they (the administration) doing? Underspending. Obviously, there’s a budget, they just don’t want to spend them. But now, it turned out that the savings will be used for the upcoming elections),” said Mar Roxas in an interview via GMA’s 24 Oras.
But Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Binay’s quip at the administration was brought about by the President not endorsing him as the administration’s standard bearer for the 2016 presidential run.
“That’s what happens when he was not endorsed by the President. Before he was all praises, now he criticizes. What is certain is that, VP Binay’s life improved because up to now, he still can’t explain all these allegations of corruption against him),” said Lacierda on GMA’s 24 Oras.
Administration’s bet and Liberal Party’s standard bearer Mar Roxas has also some words against VP Binay’s accusations. Roxas said that maybe Binay was just disconcerted and confused among the graft cases he’s accused with these days.
“He’s trying to divert the issue to different unrelated topics. I guess what’s best for him to do is to answer all the Ombudsman as well as the Senate regarding all these corruption allegations during his term in Makati,” said Mar Roxas in an interview on GMA’s 24 Oras.
But Binay’s camp won’t easily back down as all the accusations for the Vice President was just a part of a demolition job and hasn’t been verified or justified by the courts.
“The administration is already utilizing all the branches of the government for this demolition job against Vice President Binay, but they still couldn’t prove all these allegations against the VP,” said Atty. Rico Quicho, Spokesperson for Political Affairs, Office of the Vice President in an interview on GMA’s 24 Oras.