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August 1, 2014

Why I Care About DAP and Where Tax Money Goes

This article was written by Jake Crisologo as a personal reflection and article for Social Watch Philippines.


When I was a freshman in the University of the Philippines, a persistent little girl would go to our tambayan at AS (Arts and Sciences) to sell sampaguita or ask for money. She was around four years old; a spunky little girl who, at one point, jokingly asked for money for Starbucks and Rodic’s Tapsilog.


Coming from provincial Abra, I wasn’t used to seeing street children; not that there weren’t any poor people where I come from. But it was a different kind of poverty. In small towns, it was easier to know whose kid that was running around in weekdays instead of being in school or getting scraps of food in the town plaza.

In the city, you see a lot of street kids, even in UP. You don’t know where they live, who they are, and what they do.

At one point, you become numb to the whole scene. It’s slightly horrifying the way it happens so quickly, this getting used to it all. I had my own problems to deal with, and I arrived at the resolution that the problem of poverty is systemic and structural, without really having a clear picture of this system and structure.

You do what you can—you occasionally buy them food, or give them extra change, thinking that maybe you helped in getting them through one more day. The guilt is there that there should be something more but you’ve become pragmatic. I don’t know if it’s easier or harder when you see that they’ve settled into the dynamic too. It’s sad, but you do get used to it; knowing that you shouldn’t.

Riding the jeep to work this morning, I saw this girl again. She’s probably ten or eleven now. A few times I’ve seen her begging at the GT Toyota, and she’s become more persistent, ungrateful even, when the spare change you give isn’t enough. A “brighter future” doesn’t seem much of a prospect anymore because she can live off begging. And who am I to impose a future on her when I am not capable of paying for it?

Or am I?

I started working since I was a junior in college. Before I got employed as a research assistant/writer, I used to tutor kids part-time and have odd writing jobs to augment my allowance for food, for leisure, for photocopied readings I hardly read but was required to, and for books I wasn’t required to read but that I did read. From the exploitative tutorial centers who treated us like crap, to online jobs that consisted of writing about lawnmowers and “penile enhancement”, I got paid. But I was paying too.

There were tax deductions.

It was only when I started working with Social Watch Philippines, an organization watching the national budget and one that deals with public finance, that I felt empowered with the idea that I was paying taxes, and that I was actually paying taxes whether or not I was employed with every thing that I bought. Everybody’s paying and it goes to the government. Even that street girl paid taxes through Value-Added Tax. Income tax or Value-Added Tax, billions went into the government from our pay checks and with every single thing that we bought.

Where does it all go?

If you want me to be specific about where ALL of it goes, I won’t be able to tell you. Even if I have a copy of the General Appropriations Act, which should have this information, I wouldn’t be able to tell you either. There are many items that are not detailed, no matter how many times the Department of Budget and Management says that it’s transparent, and no matter how pretty they make their budget presentations. Any good marketing firm can make anything look pretty.

No, we don’t know where all the money is going.

But we can talk about where it should and where it shouldn’t.

These days we see and hear stuff about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Though the program is rife with issues, I’d like to focus on the major assumption that the government is using: DAP brought economic growth.

Let’s disregard for a moment that DAP was declared unconstitutional, since that’s how the Executive, and to a certain extent, the Legislative, is treating the issue. The theoretical intricacies can be confusing, and the Supreme Court decision and the individual papers by the Justices is over 200 pages of hardcore analytic legalese mere mortals like me would find hard to understand.

I do understand that the economic growth that justifies the DAP is overrated and is so broadly stated it’s mostly a lie. During the Supreme Court Oral Arguments on the the DAP, Budget Secretary Butch Abad cited a World Bank Report that the DAP contributed 1.3 percentile points to the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2011.

However, that growth only accounted for the last quarter of 2011, and the 1.3% was not even solely attributed to DAP, but the government’s overall spending. The WB said this all in the report, in fact saying that even the overall spending was not enough to reach targets. Therefore, the impact of DAP, aside from not being accurately nor reasonably quantified, is definitely overstated.

This overstatement, I think, is cruel. We are being told that the country is getting better when parallel data says otherwise. Social indicators like poverty, hunger, and unemployment rates have hardly improved since 2003. Poverty is stagnant at around 25-27%, or a quarter of the population, according the National Statistics Coordination Board. Hunger is at 18.1% (self-rated) in the fourth quarter of 2013 and is just 0.2 point above from the 17.9% in September 2013, according to Social Weather Stations . According to the National Statics Office, unemployment is at around 7%, while SWS surveys slate it at 27.5%, estimated at around 12.1 million Filipinos.

The government’s primary anti-poverty program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, our version of Conditional Cash Transfers, has a scope so limited it has not made a dent in poverty. The Department of Social Welfare and Development has already conceded that the CCT’s standards do not target the poorest of the poor. To qualify, you have to be a family with children,

or the wife should be pregnant. What happens to the rest of the poor who do not have children, or are senior citizens, or the PWDs? What government program addresses poverty in its many forms and gradients?

The Executive was caught with its hand in the cookie jar with the DAP, and is petulantly trying to justify itself saying that it did a lot of good. It has done this to the extent that it is bullying the Judiciary for its decision, going over and over again that they are good people. We have a Legislative branch with some Senators “licking the shoes” of the Budget Secretary, as Roberto Tiglao puts it. Senator Nancy Binay became the unexpected rock star at the Senate hearing on DAP, with her asking the relevant and hard questions on the issue. Bless her soul, we might actually have a champion.

We have a Chief Executive that is so smug that he harps about economic growth, his honesty and the good intentions of his Cabinet secretary, regardless of the actual conditions of life at the margins of societ— the life his government of “Tuwid na Daan” swore to change. Whether or not he stole himself, the system in place in his regime still made stealing not only possible, but easy. His honesty and sense of morality did not stop him from making DAP instrumental in another mechanism of the pork barrel system.

Even if there were good projects made from the DAP, each fund was that was used was taken away from another project, since the budget did not increase. For every road built or health center made with DAP in a territory that was most likely politically favorable to the Administration, another place was deprived. Operative fact would save the DAP projects and their beneficiaries, if proven that they truly are good. But the argument that it was needed to stimulate the economy is wrong, because if the budget was made and implemented well, then it would have naturally stimulated the economy.

Social Watch Philippines and other organizations are offering solutions for budget reforms, like the reduction of lump sums in the budget, holding the people accountable to their actions in government, and mobilizing people to pay attention and demand a better government, in whatever avenue that is possible.

As for me, I guess I’ll keep on writing and telling stories. I am humbled by the idea that people won’t care no matter what I say, but I can’t stop either way. We, people who talk about these issues, are accused of destabilizing the government, and of being blindly critical without offering concrete solutions to the problems that we ourselves write about. We are supposedly part of a leftist machinery, or anarchic fools on a rampage because we “don’t like PNoy”.

Well, I don’t have to not like him to know that he violated the Constitution. And that matters to me because as we’re paying for his salary and the excesses of his “fiscal flexibility”, somewhere out there, a girl has resigned herself to a life of poverty.

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