House approves P2.6T budget for 2015

Angela Casauay

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House approves P2.6T budget for 2015
The budget bill allows Malacañang to declare 'savings' in any agency at any given time of the year. It also represents the largest budget to be approved in the lead-up to a national election.
APPROVED. The House of Representatives passes the proposed P2.606 trillion national budget for 2015 on Wednesday, October 29. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Voting 197-27, the House of Representatives on Wednesday, October 29, approved the P2.606-trillion budget for 2015 on 3rd and final reading despite vehement opposition from party-list lawmakers over errata submitted after budget debates had already ended.  

Party-list lawmakers had wanted their colleagues to return the budget to the plenary after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) submitted a 269-page errata after the budget was approved on 2nd reading.

The 2nd reading is stage in the legislative process which ends the period of amendments. 

DBM withdrew the 269-page document after Bayan Muna representatives raised concerns that the items were “midnight insertions.” However, the agency re-submitted it weeks later to the small committee that was created to reconcile adjustments made from the original proposal

“There should be no amendments to the bill until 3rd reading,” said Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares. “I don’t think the Constitution or any rule will allow a small committee to approve amendments. The small committee should return the amendments to plenary.”

His motion was rejected. Deputy Speaker Carlos Padilla said the plenary had authorized the small committee to reconcile the amendments in the budget before Congress adjourned session soon after passing the 2015 budget on 2nd reading.

Colmenares had earlier threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court. 

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the practice of creating a small committee handling amendments has been done in the past. 

“Considering that the budget is a class by itself and for practical purposes can not be really submitted to individual amendments, the past practice of Congress up to now is to create a small committee. So unique is the budget that the plenary authorizes the small committee to make amendments and do as it wishes,” Gonzales said. 

About 80% of the errata were typographical errors, Malacañang said. The document containing the complete errata has yet to be made public.

Bayan Muna earlier released a summary that claimed an increase in the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s budget to P435 billion from P104 billion, which the party list later retracted. The amount turned out to pertain to the P33-billion allocation for local government units or ALGU lumped together with the P389-billion Internal Revenue Allotment.

House appropriations committee chairman Isidro Ungab said the errata only covered adjustments worth P4.7 billion for various agencies. 

Savings redefined

The proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2014 contains a new definition of government savings, a move proposed by Malacañang that is meant to “cure” unconstitutional acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program

During debates, Bayan Muna had opposed proposed provisions in Section 67 of the GAA stating that the executive branch will have the power to declare as savings funding for projects that have been discontinued “for justifiable causes at any given time.” 

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 a statement, Thursday, October 30, Ungab clarified that the provision was not included in the final version of the proposed budget. 

“Nowhere in the 2015 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) does it state such phrase or provision and this fact could easily be verified and confirmed if checked with the approved GAB, section 67 thereof,” Ungab said. 

“Please note that the use and definition of savings as provided in the approved 2015 GAB was amended in consideration of the constitutional provisions and latest SC rulings on the matter and ensured that the same will be effective and practical for the operations of the government departments/offices,” he added.

Section 29 of the 2015 GAA reads: “Nothwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, unreleased appropriations and unobligated allotments authorized in this Act shall revert to the General Fund at the end of the validity of appropriations and shall not therefore be available for expenditure except by subsequent legislative enactment.” 

Read parts of the relevant provisions on savings provided by Ungab below:

House personnel were seen distributing the latest version of the 2015 budget on the floor on Wednesday just before lawmakers voted on the budget on 3rd and final reading. 

Dubbed by budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines as an elections budget, the 2015 budget is the largest budget to be approved in the lead-up to a national election.

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