Budget experts discuss tax and gov’t spending at UPLB sa Halalan

Budget experts were called to participate in an online forum entitled “BUWISit na BUWIS: Paano ba masusulit?” on April 18.

The forum, organized by the UPLB College of Public Affairs and Development (CPAf) and the College of Economics and Management (CEM),  is part of UPLB sa Halalan 2022 which aims to educate and inform the public for the 2022 national and local elections. 

Previous sessions of UPLB sa Halalan had focused on the role of youth, academe, and media and government employees’ participation in the elections, the purpose of the party-list system, the qualifications of elected government officials, and post-EDSA Philippine politics.   

Zy-za Nadine Suzara, the executive director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy, Inc. (iLEAD), presented her topic “The Politics of the 2022 National Budget.” 

iLEAD is a non-stock, non-profit think tank consultancy and resource center that focuses on utilizing strategic policy work in fiscal policy research, advocacy and coalition-building, and business insight and intelligence. 

Having served at the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Trade and Industry, Suzara’s expertise on the national budget is regularly tapped by the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

Her presentation focused on the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), which included key observations and constitutional questions and its relation to the national budget. 

One of her key observations was the government’s “continued insistence on the ‘brute force’ approach to infrastructure,” wherein the 2022 GAA allocated the highest budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), specifically for its Build Build Build Program, amounting to PhP786.73 billion, despite not having a technical study showing the multiplier effects of the past investments on infrastructure. 

Another point of concern was the “bloated unprogrammed appropriations (UA),” which have no sure source of financing. Grouped under the UA are crucial health, education, and economic recovery programs for the pandemic. Suzara noted that the health sector remains to lack funding and support, despite health experts foreseeing an increase in COVID-19 cases after the elections. 

She also pointed out that military and law enforcement have a demanding share of the national budget, with the government needing PhP800 billion annually for 20 years to fund the  pensions for military and uniformed personnel totaling PhP9.6 trillion. This will cause a possible ballooning of debt, Suzara said, adding that this issue will pose a serious financial burden to the government if not overhauled. 

Suzara proceeded to discuss possible constitutional issues in the 2022 GAA, stating that “the Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the Government as specified in the budget.” 

However, the 2022 National Expenditure Plan from the executive branch saw an increase in the 2022 GAA by PhP100 billion for pork projects under the DPWH.

Suzara ended her talk by saying that the fiscal problems that will be left behind by the Duterte Administration will go beyond the ballooning debts and deficits, and recommended that the next administration make serious fiscal policy and public financial management reforms. 

The second talk featured Atty. Marco Antonio Luisitio V. Sardillo III, a national legal specialist for the United Nations Development Programme in the Philippines, with the topic “BUWIS IS IT!: Buwis-it na Buwis, Paano nga ba Masusulit?”

Atty. Sardillo talked about the various ways taxes can be used for productive projects that can help rehabilitate and improve the situations in selected areas. Projects include planned inclusive development, gaining partners in and for tourism development, and possible prospects for inclusive development. 

He emphasized the qualities that elected government officials must have: trustworthy, excellent in thought, word, and deed, dependable, and respectful. He also quoted former secretary of the Department of Tourism Ramon Jimenez Jr., saying, “Your obligation as a public servant is to be happy only to have become part of the beginning.” 

A short open forum followed, moderated by Prof. Cris Edwin Bonalos, which answered questions about various technical and practical applications of the national budget and tax usage. 

Dr. Agham C. Cuevas, CEM dean, gave the closing remarks and reminded the participants that the future of the Philippines relies on the votes of the Filipino people. 

A recording of the forum is available at the UPLB official Facebook Page. (Kristel Hope Villafuerte)

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