Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bangsamoro's minimum annual price tag of P50 B a small price to pay for peace– Recto

MANILA-Government was told to increase the “preliminary figure” of a P20.4 billion 2015 budget for Autonomous Regional Government for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as the region deserves a “bigger peace dividend” for ending civil strife.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto made this plea after noting that the ARMM government’s “indicative budget” as stated in the “budget call” used by the Budget department in drafting next year’s proposed budget grants a measly 4.2 percent increase in ARMM allocations.

The ARMM government’s obligation budget for this year is P19.6 billion. “It gets less than one percent of the national budget,” Recto said.

“In fact if the PDAF hadn't been abolished, it would have gotten a bigger slice in the budget pie than the ARMM government,” Recto said, referring to PDAF’s deleted P25.2 billion funding in this year’s national budget

Recto said that even if nominally ARMM government’s 2015 indicative budget is P840 million bigger than this year’s, “in real terms it is still negative growth.”

This is because if you add the population growth rate and the inflation rate, the sum is bigger than the 4.2 percent hike in the budget, Recto explained.

Still, Recto said President Aquino deserves the highest praise for pushing for the comprehensive peace settlement of a conflict with complex historical and social roots.

He said whatever the end result of the government peace deal with the MILF would be “the central government has the obligation to give more funds to a region which though poor is rich in potential.”

“We don’t know what will happen to the ARMM regional government. It can be replaced by another entity. If next year is ARMM government’s last hurrah, then the best goodbye gift we can give it is a bigger budget which in turn benefits the successor government because it will be using a higher base in asking for subsequent funds,” he said.

Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the ARMM will continue to function until a Bangsamoro Government has been elected by residents of areas which voted in a plebiscite to join it, in a manner provided by a Bangsamoro Basic Law passed by Congress.

Once formed, the Bangsamoro Government will receive an annual "block grant" from the government, the amount of which, in the words of the GPH-MILF peace deal, “shall in no case be less than the last budget received by the ARMM.”

In computing the latter, it is not just the ARMM government’s budget which will be reckoned, Recto explained “but all the funds spent in the region.”

This include the P15.7 billion Internal Revenue Allocation to ARMM’s five provinces, three cities, 116 towns and 2,490 barangays; the “Bottom Up Budgeting” allocation of P4.6 billion; and other “regionalized” spending of the national government.

In all, the amount would be in the neighborhood of P44 billion to P50 billion, he said. “If you want to pin a price tag then that would be the minimum,” he said.

“Hopefully, this amount will be reduced in the future, as the new government will be financially self-reliant because fiscal independence is the hallmark of autonomy,” Recto said.

Recto stressed that “budgetary allocation” remains government’s “most effective equity” in the peace project.

“There are costs in pounding swords into plows,” Recto said.

“Yes, peace has a price but from a funding point of view an imperfect peace is still less costly than a just war,” he said.

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