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MANILA, Philippines – Three opposition lawmakers have knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the supposed excess in unprogrammed funds in the 2024 national budget.
Rappler breaks down the issue by answering the most common questions.
What are unprogrammed funds?
Unprogrammed funds are basically standby funds that the government can tap into when unanticipated situations arise.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) wrote that the concept of unprogrammed funds was introduced over four decades ago and retained by succeeding administrations. Such a budget can be tapped during calamities and other “activities we do not even anticipate.” (READ: Romualdez says unprogrammed funds can augment gov’t social programs)
This is different from programmed appropriations, which already have a definite funding source in the budget document by the time the executive branch submitted the succeeding year’s spending proposal to the legislative.
How big are the executive branch’s unprogrammed fund requests to Congress for 2024?
For 2024, the DBM requested P281.91 billion in unprogrammed funds from Congress, based on the DBM’s proposal known as the National Expenditure Program (NEP).
This is significantly lower than the government’s P807.16 billion in unprogrammed funds in 2023.
What is the amount that Congress approved?
The 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA) – the budget document signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – shows that unprogrammed funds for 2024 climbed to P731.45 billion, P449.54 billion more than what the executive branch originally requested from Congress.
What exactly is the issue?
The ballooning of the unprogrammed appropriations alarmed House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas of Gabriela. She called the funds “standby pork” that the President can control.
She said it “underscores the boundless discretionary spending by the regime in 2024 in time for the upcoming midterm elections.”
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, president of the Liberal Party, also insisted that the nearly half-trillion-peso increase is unconstitutional.
He raised Section 25(1) of the Article VI of the Constitution, which states: “The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the government as specified in the budget.”
His argument is that the executive branch only asked for P281.91 billion, so Congress does not have the constitutional right to go beyond that amount.
What’s the petition before the Supreme Court all about?
The petition challenging the constitutionality of the unprogrammed funds was filed before the Supreme Court on January 16.
The petitioners are all Liberal Party members, belonging to the minority contingent in the House:
- Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman
- Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Gabriel Bordado
- Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman
Named respondents are:
- Congress of the Philippines, through Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez
- Senator Sonny Angara, co-chairman of the 2024 bicameral conference committee on the 2024 general appropriations bill
- Ako Bicol Representative Zaldy Co, co-chairman of the 2024 bicameral conference committee on the 2024 general appropriations bill
- Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin
- DBM Secretary Amenah Pangandaman
- National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon
What are the petitioners’ main arguments?
The LP lawmakers argued that the insertion of an additional P449.5 billion in unprogrammed funds caused a constitutional defect in the 2024 budget. They added that Marcos’ failure to veto it aggravated the matter.
The petition also added that there is a need to end the “erroneous interpretation” that the Constitution meant to provide a ceiling only on programmed funds, and not unprogrammed funds.
“It is the unprogrammed appropriations which have been invariably increased annually to accommodate even partisan and pet projects,” the petition read.
The petitioners also alleged that the surge in unprogrammed funds was made with “grave abuse of discretion,” pointing out that the bicameral conference committee inserted the additional funds without consent of the greater membership of the House and the Senate.
What did the respondents say?
Co, who has been engaged in a charter change-related word war with Lagman in the past week, insinuated that his fellow Bicolano’s decision to file the petition was motivated by personal reasons.
“Was it because he was recently excluded from the bicameral committee that he now claims unprogrammed funds are illegal? Lagman was also once chairman of the appropriations committee and a member of said panel for almost 15 years and yet not once has he ever complained about unprogrammed appropriations. Why complain now?” Co said in a statement.
Budget Secretary Pangandaman, for her part, insisted that the unprogrammed funds are constitutional, explaining that several criteria must be met before unprogrammed funds are released. These include excesses in revenue collection and a certification from the Bureau of Treasury.
The Presidential Communications Office, meanwhile, said that “the executive department will answer accordingly if required by the Supreme Court.” – Rappler.com