MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives on Friday, September 26, approved on 2nd reading the proposed P2.606 trillion ($57.982 billion) budget for 2015 – the highest budget approved for a year leading up to a national election.
The budget was approved at 11:52 pm via a viva voce vote. Lawmakers worked overtime, extending plenary session for one more day to beat their deadline just before Congress pauses for a 3-week break on Saturday, September 27.
This year’s budget deliberation was framed by the Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional the Disbursement Acceleration Program, a pump-prime mechanism meant to boost the economy.
Under the general provisions of the 2015 budget, which is 15.1% or P342 billion ($7.609 billion) higher than the 2014 budget, Malacañang proposed changes to the definition of savings, a move aimed at “curing” acts under DAP.
The changes under Section 67 of the General Appropriations Act include giving the executive branch the power to declare projects that have been discontinued “for justifiable causes at any given time” – a provision that Bayan Muna has opposed.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said this will allow Malacañang to realign the budget at will by stopping any project at any given time and declaring as savings funds originally intended for it.
In his turno en contra speech, Colmenares said the new definition “castrates” the congressional power of the purse.
“Mga kasama ko sa Kongreso, huwag nating payagan ang bago at maling depinisyon ng savings. Kung papayag tayo sa gusto ng Pangulo, mawawalang saysay ang power of the purse ng Kongreso, lumuhod na lang tayo sa bagong diktador sa badyet, si President Benigno S. Aquino,” Colmenares said.
(My colleagues in Congress, let us not approve the new and wrong definition of savings. If we adhere to what the President wants, the power of the purse of Congress will be rendered useless, we might as well just kneel to the new budget dictator, President Benigno S. Aquino.)
Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and House appropriations committee chair Isidro Ungab have denied that the new savings definition will allow the executive to stop any project it wants. They said there is a standard before a project can be discontinued – there must be “justifiable cause.”
Colmenares said the revisions are dangerous because the law does not set the parameters for what would constitute “justifiable cause.”
Budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines had called the 2015 budget an “elections budget” since it will be used in the lead up to the 2016 national elections.
While the budget no longer contains lawmakers’ pork barrel, leftist lawmakers continued to question other kinds of lump sums. Bayan Muna said “presidential pork barrel” items in the budget include:
- Budgetary Support to GOCCs, P61.3 billion ($1.366 billion)
- Assistance to LGU, P33.1 billion ($737.69 million)
- Risk management program, P30 billion ($668.6 million)
- Support for infra projects and social programs, P20 billion ($445.733 million)
- Unprogrammed funds, P123 billion ($2.741 billion)
- Miscellenaous Personnel Benefit Fund, P118 billion ($2.63 billion)
The party list group also questioned the administration’s Grassroots Participatory Budgeting (P20.9 billion/$465.791 million), as well as the PAMANA program (P5.83 billion/$129.931 million).
The Grassroots Participatory Budgeting program enables civil society groups and local government units to participate in the budget process while the PAMANA program provides projects to conflict-affected areas.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said lump sum special purpose funds in the budget only amount to P48.1 billion ($1.072 billion) but only 1.8% are strictly lump sums.
Abad has maintained it would be difficult to break items such as the disaster fund (P14 billion or $312.013 million) and the contingent fund (P2 billion or $44.573 million) into specific items since it would be hard to predict when it will be needed.
The proposed 2015 budget has an Open Data provision, which requires all government entities to “adopt a policy of openness” for all data sets created through the use of public funds.
As the House of Representatives paused for a break, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr thanked his colleagues for carrying out their oversight functions and called on them to strengthen them further.
It was the same message he delivered when Congress opened its 2nd regular session.
Belmonte said the House will prioritize the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and amendments to the economic provision of the Constitution when House members report back for work on October 20. – Rappler.com
*($1 = P44.87)