Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rehab funds in national budget carry “do not plunder” warning

MANILA-The Senate has erected a “do not plunder” sign in the P20 billion fund to rehabilitate Yolanda-hit and quake-damaged areas in the Visayas.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said that a special provision of the P20 billion budget for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program in the 2014 national budget inflicts long jail terms and hefty fines for those who will embezzle rebuilding funds.

The provision states that “any government official, employee and person who shall misuse any amount of the fund under his control or administration shall suffer the maximum penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code, Republic Act 3019, Republic Act 7080 and under penal laws.”

Under RA 7080, or the Anti-Plunder Law, life imprisonment and a life-time ban on holding public office shall be meted out to any person who amasses at least P75 million in bribes or kickbacks from government projects.

Republic Act 3019 punishes graft and corrupt practices with imprisonment of up to 10 years, a perpetual ban from occupying public office and confiscation of unexplained wealth manifestly out of proportion of the guilty official’s lawful income.

Stealing a measly P200 in public money, on the other hand, will result in prison time of between six months and six years under the Revised Penal Law.

Recto praised Sen. Chiz Escudero, chair of the Senate finance committee, for drafting the language of this “plunder warning” provision. 

“This is the first time that a provision of this nature has been incorporated in the national budget and this is thanks to Senator Chiz,” Recto said.

“Sa simpleng salita, may matinding babala sa budget na mabubulok sa kulungan ang sino mang magnanakaw ng pondo para sa mga sinalanta ng bagyo at lindol,” Recto explained.

After a series of man-made and natural calamities hit the country on the second half of last year, Recto said the Senate, by cutting the fat and trimming the overhead of some government agencies and programs, cobbled together a P20 billion fund for the rebuilding of disaster-hit areas.

Covered by the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program are reconstruction works in areas devastated by typhoons Yolanda, Santi, Odette, Sendong, Vinta and Labuyo; by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Bohol and Cebu; and civil strife in Zamboanga City.

Under the 2014 General Appropriations Act, the funds shall be released directly to implementing agencies based on the recommendation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and upon the approval of President Aquino.

Earmarked to receive the funds are the Department of Agriculture (P500 million), Department of Education (P1 billion), Department of Energy (P500 million), State Universities and Colleges (P3 billion), Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (P1 billion), Department of Health (P1 billion).

Department of Public Works and Highways  (P5 billion), National Housing Authority  (P1.5 billion), Department of Social Welfare and Development (P3.5 billion), Department of Transportation and Communications (P1 billion) and local governments ( P2 billion).

These agencies are required to post in their respective websites the description of the projects, the cost, the winning bidders and the status of their implementation.

Recto explained that the rehabilitation and reconstruction fund is but one of the budgetary sources of reconstruction money. The others are the P13 billion Calamity Fund and P80 billion in the Unprogrammed Fund.

He said the “plunder warning” is also in effect in these appropriations. 

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