Chiz: Impractical to remove budget lump sums
MANILA, Philippines – How do you specify the use of the calamity fund even before a disaster hits?
Senator Francis Escudero cited this example as he questioned a petition asking the Supreme Court to strike down lump sum funds in the 2014 budget.
The chairman of the Senate finance committee believes it will be impractical to remove lump sum items from the budget, saying this effectively “ties the hands of government.”
“If there are no lump sums allowed in the budget, the government will have a difficult time reacting to any eventuality in the future. In other words, you will limit the flexibility of government,” Escudero said in Filipino during an interview on Tuesday, January 14.
On Monday, former Manila Councilor Greco Belgica filed a petition before the High Court, asking it to declare unconstitutional lump sum discretionary funds, including the following:
- P1 billion Contingency Fund
- P139.9 billion Unprogrammed Fund
- P2.5 billion E-Government Fund
- P405 million Local Government Support Fund
Belgica also asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order or status quo ante order on the use of the lump sum funds. He ran for the Senate in May 2013 but lost.
The petitioner argued that the executive and legislative branches of government ignored the Supreme Court ruling striking down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) when they put the lump sum funds in the 2014 budget.
Yet Escudero said it is impossible for lawmakers to detail the use of all items in the budget. He said doing so would be a deception (lokohan).
“Maglalagay sila ng itemized utilization noon bagaman alam nila na hindi naman gagamitin, at 'pag dumating iyong panahon na gagamitin na, ire-realign na lamang nila doon sa totoong paggagastusan. So mas mahabang proseso, 'ika nga, ang mangyayari,” he said.
(They will put itemized utilization even if they know that it will not be used for the purposes they thought of, and when the time comes to use the fund, they will just realign it for the real expense. So the process just gets longer.)
‘Even SC budget has lump sums’
Escudero said even the budget of the Supreme Court has lump sum items.
“[If they strike down the lump sums,] they also have to declare their own lump sums unconstitutional. You cannot just choose certain lump sums if that happens,” he said.
“If that is their argument, then the additional P100 [billion] we gave for [Typhoon] Yolanda victims and Bohol earthquake victims will not be allowed. Is that illegal and prohibited? Why don’t they question that? They cannot just choose which lump sums they like and which they don’t like. It should either be legal or illegal,” Escudero added.
In the 2014 budget, the Senate increased Malacañang’s original proposal for the calamity fund worth P7.5 billion to P100 billion following a series of disasters in 2013. The calamity fund is a lump sum.
Escudero also dismissed Belgica’s statement that the lump sums ran counter to the Supreme Court ruling against the PDAF.
The finance chairman reiterated his stand that the decision only prohibited the intervention of lawmakers in implementation after the budget is passed.
“You should read the decision. It referred to post-enactment intervention of legislators. There is no post-enactment intervention of legislators in these funds,” he said.
The senator again defended Congress’ power of the purse.
“Ano ba ang gusto nilang gawin namin? 'Pag may binigay na budget sa amin ang presidente, hindi naming p'wedeng galawin iyon? Bawal naming baguhin?”
(What do they want us to do? When the President submits a budget, we can’t touch that? We can’t change it?)
Belgica filed his petition following the revelation that 9 senators and members of the House of Representatives realigned their their 2014 PDAF to line agencies and the calamity fund, after the Supreme Court had struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada drew flak for being the only legislator to realign his PDAF to local government units including Manila, where his father, former President Joseph Estrada, is mayor. – Rappler.com