The power of @ (Second of a series) was also published by The Manila Times on 30 August 2023.
Given the growing pile of dirt and decay that society wallows in—the metastasis against which Noli Me
Tangere has warned us long time ago—people with reputation for courage and invincibility in the mold
of @Achilles may not be enough to clean up corruption in government. We need another mythical icon
in @Hercules to help us free ourselves from heaps upon heaps of dung.
Where is all this filth coming from?
Let’s start with the government’s economic growth agenda. I think there is universal support for
government when it preaches the need to accelerate economic growth. There might even be consensus
when there is hirit for more tax and even utang to fund economic growth. But as we go into its details,
we can find the benign bukol morphing into something malignant.
To recall (for those who have forgotten their economics subjects), gross national product, or gross
national income, is equal to gross domestic product (GDP) plus Net Income Inflow from Overseas minus
Net Income Outflow to Foreign Countries, and where GDP equals Consumption + Investment +
Government Expenditure + (Exports minus Imports).
One of the most consistent contributors to consumption and investment is the pool of remittances from
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), who have been key to keeping our economy afloat despite an anemic
agriculture and manufacturing sectors. For government, the easiest way to stimulate economic growth
is to increase its spending, supported by an outsized budget.
To illustrate, for example, data shows that “government spending for 2022 has reached P5.2 trillion, up
by 10.35% from P4.7 trillion a year ago .” In 2022, GDP growth rate increased to 7.6 percent from
5.7 percent in 2021.
Government spending—regardless of who ends up benefiting from it (large chunks of it eventually
fatten private bank accounts)—is a handy pump priming tool. What keeps the government from
spending more is not so much about lack of funds as it is about lack of organizational capacity, because
government can always borrow money. Indeed, national government debt has grown since 1987 at an
average annual rate of 10.6 percent, from Php395 billion in 1986 to Php13 trillion in 2022.
Infrastructure usually gets the lion’s share of the government budget, next to education. It is not all too
coincidental that government likes to spend where there is money for the corrupt. Citing sources who
Baguio City Benjamin Magalong was recently quoted in media saying that “only about 45 percent to 52
percent will be left (to the actual contractor and project) … If the project is worth P100, only about
Php42.50 to Php55 goes to fund the project. In short, up to 67.5 percent of government spending for
infrastructure projects is lost to corruption.
Government incurs debt to support its bulging budget that encourages spending where opportunities
for corruption are facts of life.
Former Department of Finance Secretary once said that “we need to begin outgrowing our debt by
restoring our high growth. To lead our strategy for quick recovery, we need to spend more on
Recently, National Economic and Development Authority NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan also said
that “it is imperative to actively pursue development projects, such as infrastructure, financed through
loans in order to accelerate the country’s economic growth,” adding that “if we want to grow fast, we
have to access external and internal resources.” He further explains that “the economy can still sustain
its growth without loans, albeit at a slower pace of one percent to three percent.”
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno also said that “if the government decides not to invest in
infrastructure projects, the revenues from taxes would be more than enough to cover the expenses
required to maintain the country’s current state.”
That is how we got a budget that has grown so large that we need to fund it with debt that is growing at
an even quicker pace. Our representatives in government enact the budget often in the name of the
poor. But half of those funds earmarked for graft prone expenditures—like infrastructures—goes to
private pockets of the powerful, the politically-connected, the well-off.
We expect that members of Congress, among other representatives of the people, would compete
among themselves for the distinction of being the @Achilles who fights for their interests. Instead, what
we have are gangs ready to join in the plunder of public funds. They have become an embarrassment
from which the democratic ideal would have no wish to be part of.
There is more. Former Senator Panfilo Lacson said that “45 projects in the 2023 budget and 26 items in
the 2024 National Expenditure Program have double, triple, quadruple and quintuple appropriations,
thus, excessively, unreasonably, unnecessarily and unconscionably bloating fund allocations in the range
of 109% to 328%.”
He laments that “nobody seems to mind at all.”
Government has become a scam. But those who run it do not mind.