SC asked to stop certain provisions in 2015 budget
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court was asked on Tuesday, September 1, to stop the implementation of several provisions in the 2015 national budget concerning savings and realignment of funds, as well as on the Special Purpose Funds.
Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones and 14 others filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the SC for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction against Sections 70 and 73 of the General Provisions of the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the national budget.
Section 70 defines savings as "portions or balances of any released appropriations... which have not been obligated" as a result of certain conditions, while Section 73 outlines rules in the realignment of allotment classes and the reprioritization of items of appropriations.
The definition of savings was at the center of the controversy surrounding the Aquino administration's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that was deemed unconstitutional by the SC. (READ: Understanding the SC ruling on the DAP)
"Petitioners call on this Honorable Court to prevent the Legislative and the Executive from making the Constitution or the ruling in the Belgica or Araullo illusory," the petition said. "Whether it is through deceptive or creative schemes, the Executive and the Legislative branches should be prevented from doing indirectly what they cannot legally do directly."
The SC's Araullo ruling was about the DAP, while the Belgica ruling dealt with the unconstitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), widely known as the "pork barrel" of lawmakers.
Named as respondents are Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Briones said the respondents are "insulting" the SC and contravening its decision on the PDAF and the DAP by implementing the assailed provisions.
"We believe that the Court should intervene because their decisions have been ignored. Not only that, the Constitution has been ignored and laid aside as well," she said.
Briones said they have evidence of these transactions all over the country, as well as the transfers and the change in the definition of government savings.
She also feared that this could be used by the Aquino administration for the 2016 elections.
“Iniinsulto ng mga respondents ang taumbayan kung saan nanggagaling ang ginagastos na 'yon. Alam naman nating the year before the elections kuntodo gastos ang administrasyon. Nangyari na ito dati – binalewala lamang ang Korte Suprema, binalewala ang Konstitusyon, binalewala ang batas, binalewala ang pera ng taumbayan,” she said.
(The respondents are insulting the public as to the source of these expenditures. We all know that this administration spends a lot the year before the elections. This has happened before – they disregarded the Supreme Court, they disregarded the Constitution, they disregarded the law, they disregarded the people's money.)
Former senator Panfilo Lacson was with the group when the petition was filed, but was not among the signatories. He pointed out that these provisions in the GAA go against the SC rulings and even the Constitution.
"Maliwanag kasi ang probisyon sa Saligang Batas, 'yung Article 6, Section 25, Paragraph 5 na 'yung hindi pwedeng mag-transfer ng appropriations," said Lacson. (The provisions are clear in the Constitution, in Article 6, Section 25, Paragraph 5, that the transfer of appropriations are not allowed.)
"Ibig sabihin, savings lang ang pwedeng i-transfer at hindi mo na pwedeng gawin sa kalagitnaan ng taon at ini-specify dun na ang President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, Chief Justice at heads of constitutional commissions lang ang pwedeng mag-transfer, hindi yung nade-delegate ito o gampanan ng Cabinet secretaries,” he continued.
(That means, only savings are allowed to be transferred, and one cannot do it in the middle of the year. It's also specified there that only the President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, Chief Justice, and heads of constitutional commissions are allowed to transfer, and it could not be delegated to or exercised by Cabinet secretaries.)
Lacson cited, as an example of an act that should not be allowed, a memorandum by the Department of Health wherein funds for the construction of a hospital were transferred to another hospital.
Technical malversation charges can even be filed against those who do not use the amount specified in the national budget for its intended purpose, argued Lacson.
Also special purpose funds
Aside from Sections 70 and 73, the petitioners also pleaded to the Supreme Court to stop the respondents from implementing the following provisions of the Special Purpose Fund in the GAA:
- E-Government Fund (for strategic information and communication technology projects)
- International Commitment Fund
- Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Funds
- National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund
- Pension and Gratuity Fund and the Reconstruction, and
- Rehabilitation Program Fund.
They added that a injunction should likewise be issued against the implementation of National Budget Circular 559, or Guidelines in the Realignment of Funds under the GAA and for Other Purposes, for being "issued pursuant to the unconstitutional provision of Section 73 of the 2015 GAA."
The petitioners asked the SC that it declare as "illegal and unconstitutional" all the aforementioned provisions and "permanently enjoin the respondents from implementing it."
Joining Briones as petitioners are:
- Ramon Acebedo Pedroza, Frances Irene Rallonza Bretana, and Mae Palacio Paner of Scrap the Pork Network
- Rodolfo Aranas Fabricante of the Overseas Filipino Workers Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc.
- Amorsolo Competente, president of Alert and Concerned Employees for Better SSS
- David Diwa, president of the National Labor Union
- Eleuterio Tuazon, president of the Philippine Association of Labor Unions
- Bienvenido Lorque, Board of Director of United Filipino Seafarer
- Leodegario De Guzman, president of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino
- Diego Landagan Magpantay of the Citizens Crime Watch-Anti-Corruption Task Force
- Alain del Pascua, president of the Katipunan ng mga Anag ng Bayan All Filipino Democratic Movement
- Sanlakas, through president Marie Marguerite Lopez and secretary general Jose Aaron Pedroza Jr, and
- Metro Manila Vendors Alliance-Quezon City, represented by secretary general Flora Santos.