Scrapping the P7.5 billion Calamity Fund in the 2014 national budget, on the false suspicion that it is a presidential pork barrel, will be the real calamity, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto warned today.
“In the Richter scale of budgeting disaster, I will rank it at Intensity 7,” Recto said when asked to comment on calls to scrap the traditional “standby aid and relief fund” in the national budget.
Recto also described suggestions that the Calamity Fund be itemized in advance as “impossible and impractical.”
“Itemizing the budget is premised on the ability to accurately predict events or pinpoint occurrences with precision. But in the case of the Calamity Fund, how can you predict when and where a typhoon will pass and the damage it will cause?”
“In the case of volcanic eruptions, we don’t have a machine that will tell us one year in advance that this volcano will erupt on this date, will cause this damage, and therefore, will need this amount to help this number of victims,” Recto said.
“Line-item budgeting is putting specific funds, for a specific purpose, in a specific location. When it comes to the Calamity Fund, how can you allocate rehabilitation funds when you don’t know the damage yet?”
Fleshing out the Calamity Fund will only be possible “if we have a Pag-asa that can count in advance the number of typhoons that will hit us, the strength of each, and the damage each one will cause, including the loss of lives and property,” Recto said.
“But if we don’t have that crystal ball, then let us retain it as an unitemized emergency fund,” he said.
“But unitemized shouldn’t be automatically equated with unaccountable,” Recto quickly added, saying that like any public money, the use of Calamity Fund must follow “procurement, accounting and auditing laws.”
Recto said scrapping the Calamity Fund will force Malacanang to go to Congress for relief funds every time a typhoon strikes. “So if we are hit by 20 typhoons, then the Palace will go to Congress 20 times for money that will take months to approve for aid that is needed immediately.”
“The real disaster is that when there’s a calamity, Malacanang, which should be writing checks for the victims, will be reduced into writing a bill that will be sent to Congress,” he said.
While he defended the retention of the Calamity Fund, Recto said there is still room for improvement on how fast it is released to disaster areas. “Kung ang bilis ng bagyo ay 60 kilometers per hour, hindi naman pwede na ang tulong ay gagapang ng six kilometers per day.”
Recto said the Calamity Fund for 2013 has been “forward deployed” to agencies identified as “first responders to crisis.”
He said that under the General Appropriations Act for 2013, funds have been advanced to six agencies with the instructions that this be used as a Quick Reaction Fund.
These agencies are the Department of Social Welfare and Development (P662. 5 M), Office of Civil Defense (P530 M), Department of National Defense (P352.5 M), Department of Public Works and Highways (P600 M), Department of Education (P550 M), Department of Agriculture (P500 M), and the National Irrigation Administration (P500 M).
The same menu is proposed to be followed next year, Recto said.