That word –fussbudget– was used by a congressman I talked to yesterday, to confirm if I was right in stating the President’s never submitted her proposed budget right after delivering the Sona, as tradition used to warrant. I also used our conversation to sound out my ideas (which I presented in yesterday’s entry) on the President and the budget. The congressman said I was correct in saying the President had failed to submit the budget on Sona day, and had been the first president to break with tradition. But as for the reasons behind it, the representative said I wrong. So why, I asked, has the President failed to submit a budget in keeping with tradition?
“She’s a fussbudget, can’t stop fiddling, and letting well enough alone,” the congressman said, with an exasperated snort (and the congressman is an ally of the President, most of the time). He says the President goes over the proposed budget line by line -debating each line, he says, up to an hour and a half for each line- to a degree that’s frankly, disturbing. She apparently views each line entry as a battle of the will between herself and the bureaucracy and Congress.
He gave the example of a small village road. The President would ask, why was there no appropriation? The Secretary of Public Works would say, the road had been built. The President would make phone calls, to interrogate other officials, to confirm whether the road had been built, and if so, how many kilometers, and what was the width: meanwhile forestalling any movement on overall budgetary priorities.
Just when I was talking about the Philippine budget, another government budget hits the headlines: the proposed US Budget for 2008. A few weeks ago, these was what the administration was saying: Palace thanks U.S. Congress for $30-M foreign military funding to RP:
Malacanang expressed today its thanks to both houses of the US Congress and Executive Branch for appropriating a $30-million foreign military funding to the Philippines to fight terrorism and bring lasting peace and progress in Mindanao.
Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said both Houses of the US Congress have approved and even increased by almost three-fold to $30 million the military funding for the Philippines from the Executive Department proposal of only $11 million.
In a statement, Bunye said the increased amount was appropriated under the 2008 Foreign Military Funding bill by both Houses of the US Congress even after several Philippine groups “have tried to stop the US funding for reasons of political expediency.”…
…Bunye added that the US Senate Committee on Appropriations also increased to $30 million from $26 million the Economic Support Fund for the Philippines and urged the Executive Branch to request for more once there is a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
A flurry of local headlines began with ABS-CBN’s north American Bureau claiming appropriations for military assistance, etc. to the country had been reduced in the proposed budget. This triggered statements such as US slashes military aid, and then a series of reactions, Malacañang denies reported cut in US aid to RP military, police, and US Embassy on aid cut: Don’t look at the numbers. The story, as carried by the Xinxua News Agency says it best: Philippines says U.S. aid reduction not to affect military modernization program. Filipinos were in a panic, and generating news.
Eventually, according to Report of US aid cut triggers uproar, the initial report turned to be false. Or was it?
US Embassy spokesperson Matthew Lussenhop said the story got ahead of the US appropriations process.
“I think it’s misleading to say that assistance has been cut,” Lussenhop told the Inquirer by phone. “The US federal government’s budget for fiscal year 2008 hasn’t been passed yet…It would be premature to say that aid has been cut.”
In the proposed US budget for foreign operations, posted at the US state department website, the department requested a total 2008 funding of $84.7 million.
This is $28.5 million less than the actual total assistance given to the Philippines in 2006 at $113.2 million.
Among the big decreases sought are for foreign military financing and international military education.
There are, however, proposed increases, such as for Economic Support Fund (from $24.7 million to $26 million). Also sought to be increased are funding for infrastructure, private sector competitiveness and human rights….
More specifically, the state department’s per-country proposal for foreign military aid, as posted on its website, showed a cut in figures for the Philippines, from actual appropriations in 2006 of around $30 million to $17.6 million in 2007 and $11.1 million in 2008.
The latter number carried the heading “proposed.”
Proposed 2008 appropriations for countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East also showed a general downtrend.
The US Senate, in a report, recommended a $30-million appropriation for foreign military financing for the Philippines, or more than double the state department’s recommendation.
You can actually track the progress of any Congressional bill online, including the votes in each house: see GovTrack.us and for scrutiny of the spending bills propose, see Washingtonwatch.com. You can try searching within the proposed budget itself. We can only dream of being able to do the same, here at home. Anyway, the process, so far, the President of the United States has proposed a 2008 Budget (see summaries for the departments of State and Defense) that the US Congress has yet to pass.
So what happened? What was all the panic about?
Take a look at this report,
Titled, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Updated January 24, 2007.
And the concluding statement from the report:
The Bush Administration has considered placing the MILF on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. However, the Arroyo Administration has opposed such a move as potentially jeopardizing the peace negotiations.
As of the beginning of 2006, the Bush Administration has voiced support for the Philippine-MILF peace negotiations as the best means of de-linking the MILF from JI and Abu Sayyaf.
This support boosts the Arroyo Administration against the AFP’s advocacy of a militarily-aggressive strategy toward the MILF. Nevertheless, thenew U.S. military role in western Mindanao increases the risk of a clash involving U.S. military personnel with the MILF. In January 2006, 60 U.S. military personnel conducted training for several hundred AFP personnel near Cotobato Cityin the heart of MILF territory. The U.S. contingent also was to carry out civic action projects (medical, dental, and veterinary services) in nearby Muslim villages. The U.S. military presence drew a protest march by Muslim civilian groups allied with the MILF and a warning from an MILF central committee official over the increasing presence of U.S. military forces in the Muslim areas of Mindanao.
The report says that basically, there’s a policy division between civilian and military officials in our government. The US, for its part, wanted to play a more aggressive role in Mindanao, whether against the Abu Sayyaf or the MILF. But the Philippine government, with regards to the MILF at least, wanted to keep the peace process going.
Now recent events in Mindanao, have put the peace process on hold. The AFP is gearing up for an offensive against the MILF. This report to the US Congress had explored the possibilities raised by a breakdown in the peace process:
Moreover, a breakdown of the negotiations and the cease-fire likely would confront the Bush Administration with policy decisions regarding a U.S. role in a wider war. The AFP could be expected to propose increased supplies of U.S. arms and military equipment; and it likely would argue for a more direct U.S. military role. The Philippine government might change its previous policy of opposition to a U.S. military role against the MILF and encourage U.S. actions against the MILF at least in a role similar to that in the joint operations against Abu Sayyaf.
If significant elements of the MILF opposed a peace agreement and moved closer to JI and Abu Sayyaf, and if they were able to continue or expand terrorist operations, the Bush Administration would be faced with a different kind of challenge but one that could include similar pressures for greater U.S. military involvement. That, too, would be the case if a peace agreement were not followed by effective measures against JI on Mindanao. There also would be the challenge of proceeding with implementing projects financed by $260 million in U.S. aid to Mindanao since 2001 (including $25 million in FY2006). This commitment, too, could confront the Administration with a policydecision of whether or not to employ U.S. pressure on the Philippine government to implement faithfully its obligations under a peace agreement. This scenario is plausible, given the reputed poor performance of Philippine governments in implementing the 1977 and 1996 agreements with the MNLF.
Now, the real news may be here: US sending Negroponte to ASEAN meetings (not sending the US Secretary of State is going to revive the complaint of Asean countries that the region ranks low in the US list of priorities, a long-standing complaint, despite a face-saving effort to shrug off Rice’s non-attendance) Canadian Foreign Minister not going, either, and Amb. Paynor, speaking for our government, says the Rice no-show doesn’t imply anything serious -certainly, by no means, a lack of US interest in Asean Oh really? John Brandon of the Asia Foundation suggests Asean, at least, thinks otherwise:
The Bush Administration recently announced that it will cancel this September’s U.S. —Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) summit. ASEAN is celebrating its 40th year, and the U.S.-ASEAN dialogue is celebrating its 30th. The cancellation of this landmark summit was due to the upcoming release of the report card on the American surge in Iraq to the U.S. Congress, slated for the same time. Although Iraq is the U.S.’s principal foreign policy issue, to Southeast Asians, this summit cancellation validates the perception that the U.S. views Southeast Asia with benign neglect and lacks a long-term strategy toward the region.
Anyway, back to Negroponte. He will be spending a day talking to Philippine officials prior to the Asean talks. The last time he was here, the discussion was reportedly about martial law. This time around, it seems logical that American policy vis-a-vis the Abu Sayaff, the MILF, and what course the government should pursue in the wake of the Lamitan massacre, will be Number One on the agenda. When news like this is presented: MILF official says its talking with gov’t to avert Basilan battle, compare it with the American briefing paper above. Is there a divergence in policy? Military stands down, delays Basilan push: who is holding the AFP back, is it the President? And if so, was the story from the ABS-CBN Bureau in the States a leak from US government sources, to pressure the Philippine government? Or the opposite?
In other news, DOF asked for asset-sale plan.
Water, power shortage: Arroyo orders agencies to prepare for the worst, although Napocor assures end to brownouts in Luzon. But within a year or two, Mindanao will not have enough power; the Visayas is already suffering a power crunch, too.
No Jonas Burgos when AFP goes to SC. An email I got recounted this:
Ricky Carandang (ANC) asked an AFP official this question in regard to their saying Jonas Burgos’ disappearance may be part of an NPA purge – how could the NPA have acquired the AFP impounded vehicle which was used to abduct Jonas? The AFP official offered no explanation.
My Arab News column for the week is Conflicting Definitions of Poverty, while my column for today is Back to basics. Other columnists’ views on the Sona from Conrado de Quiros, who compares the speech to the ones Marcos used to deliver, from Bong Austero, who interpreted the speech from a Human Resources professional’s point of view, and Connie Veneracion, who has a very interesting discussion on bonds and the VAT in Taiwan. The most humorous take on the speech was provided by Manuel Buencamino.
smoke says the new law on moveable holidays got her goat.
Seems to me the whole thing was simply meant to jolt the Philippine government into consulting with the USA on what it intends to do in Mindanao.