Ombudsman questions DBM: Why not allow us to use savings?

MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales questioned the budget department for barring her office from using its savings in 2017 despite its fiscal autonomy. 

“They (Department of Budget and Management) asked us to return the savings to the treasury. Why the Ombudsman is treated differently from the civil service, from the Supreme Court, and the COA (Commission on Audit) defies comprehension,” Morales told congressmen during the budget briefing on Thursday, August 25. 

The Ombudsman has a proposed budget of P2.299 billion for 2017, higher than the P2.063 billion for this year. 

Both the 1987 Constitution and the Ombudsman Act of 1989 recognize the fiscal autonomy of the Office of the Ombudsman. 

This means that Congress cannot reduce its budget to lower than the appropriations in previous years. The Ombudsman’s budget shall also be automatically and regularly released after approval. 

Morales' office is also part of the Constitutional Fiscal Autonomy Group, whose members are not required to revert their savings back to the National Treasury at the end of the fiscal year. 

A special provision on the Ombudsman’s use of savings was included in past General Appropriations Act (GAA), including the one for 2016

But DBM lawyer Marian Chavez explained on Thursday that such provision was not included under the proposed 2017 budget because the 1987 Constitution did not specifically list the Ombudsman as among those that can use its savings. 

Section 25, Article VI, says the President, the Senate President, the House Speaker, the Supreme Court Chief Justice, and the heads of constitutional commissions may use their savings. 

Morales argued, however, the Ombudsman was not specifically mentioned because the Ombudsman Act was only passed two years later. 

“In fact, when the Constitution was crafted, there was no Ombudsman Act. And that’s the reason why the Office of the Ombudsman is not included in the GAA that we should be given authority,” said Morales.

“If we pursue her observation to its logical conclusion, so for the years that we have been allowed to use savings, ibig sabihin magre-refund kami (does that mean we have to make a refund)?” she asked. 

DBM secretary clarifies

Asked to clarify, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the Ombudsman “may use its savings, but it is time-bound.”

“For example, an appropriation for PS (personnel services) has a lifetime of one year; MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) and capital outlays, two years. If an agency still has savings after two years, then it has to return the savings to the treasury,” Diokno said in a text message. 

“The same rule should apply to all agencies, regular or with fiscal autonomy,” he added. 

Congressmen took the side of Morales, whose office is tasked to investigate erring public officials.  

“Considering that we have a President whose campaign or program of government is against droga (drugs) and corruption, eh ngayon 'nyo pa iku-curtail 'yung power ng Ombudsman (is it even appropriate to curtail the Ombudsman’s power)? That would be against the thrust of this administration,” said House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas. 

House appropriations committee chairperson Karlo Nograles then told Morales that they would move to include the special provision on the use of savings in the 2017 GAA.

“We are happy to note that we will be returning the special provision on the use of savings,” Nograles told Morales.

The budget briefing for the Ombudsman was the shortest by far, wrapping up roughly after an hour. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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