Senator Richard Gordon and SolGen Jose Calida after the bicameral conference meeting for the bill Strengthening the Office of the Solicitor General at the Senate.
Senator Richard Gordon and SolGen Jose Calida after the bicameral conference meeting for the bill Strengthening the Office of the Solicitor General at the Senate.
Geremy Pintolo
Coverage of budget bicam sought
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — To ensure transparency, bicameral conference committee deliberations on the 2019 national budget should be open to live media coverage, House appropriations committee chairman Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya said yesterday.

“I will push for full transparency in the bicam deliberations. If need be, I will propose televised proceedings of the bicameral conference,” Andaya said.

He issued the statement after taking over the appropriations committee chairmanship Monday and relinquishing his post as majority leader.

As majority leader, he had spearheaded the probe on billions of pesos Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno allegedly inserted in the annual spending measure.

“I say enough is enough,” the senior administration lawmaker warned. “Every budget season, the House has always been a favorite whipping boy of those obsessed with finding fault on the projects funded by the General Appropriations Act.

“We know that our senators want the same,” Andaya added, apparently referring to Sen. Panfilo Lacson who had also proposed live media coverage of bicam deliberations on the budget.

Deliberations in the so-called Third Congress are always closed-door and allegedly are occasions for horse-trading.

“Let those who propose funds for projects and programs come out in the open to defend their positions. If you’re pushing for a project or a program, stand by it, fight for it,” Andaya said, vowing “transparent and fair” treatment for all.

But Andaya’s political nemesis, fellow Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte who allied himself with Diokno, insisted that the former “must come to the negotiating table with clean hands” with regard to Lacson’s claim he had nearly P1.9 billion of “surreptitiously realigned funds.” 

“Andaya’s blabbering about transparency and accountability as his hoped-for legacy in the bicam negotiations on the GAA bill is just empty rhetoric until he puts his money where his mouth is by explaining the P1.9 billion in pork that ended up in his turf,” he said.

“He has to explain his pork, and then move for its deletion from the proposed GAA bill in the bicam discussions, to give him the moral high ground to yak about wanting transparency and accountability to be his legacy as appropriations committee chairman and head of the House contingent,” he added.

Explain delay in salary increase

The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday ordered the DBM to explain the delay in the release of the fourth and final tranche of salary increases that government workers were supposed to receive last payday.

The SC required the DBM and Diokno to answer a petition filed by a group of 50 government personnel led by Andaya.

The petition sought the immediate implementation of the salary adjustment, even as the government is using a reenacted budget for the meantime due to the delayed passage by Congress of the GAA for this year.

The court gave the respondents 10 days from receipt of notice to file their comment, according to SC spokesman and court administrator Midas Marquez.

In a mandamus petition filed on Jan. 14, Andaya and company argued that the release of the fourth tranche as provided under Executive Order 201 signed by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2016 should be a ministerial duty on the part of the DBM.

The petitioners cited two alternatives for the DBM to cover for the P42.7 billion necessary for the fourth tranche of increases – the miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (MPBF) and the savings from the re-enacted 2018 budget.

They said the MPBF currently has P99.446 billion, which is “allowed to be used for payments of personal benefits, such as deficiencies in authorized salaries, bonuses, allowances, associated premiums and other similar personnel benefits of the national government personnel.”

The petitioners said that P75 billion from the MPBF is allotted for the “payment of compensation adjustment” and “funding requirements for staffing modifications and upgrading and salaries,” which could be used by the DBM for the fourth tranche of salary increases.

The group suggested that the DBM could get one-fourth of the required funding for the fourth tranche of about P10.676 billion to cover the first three months of 2019, noting the 2019 GAA may still be passed within the first quarter of the year.

As a second contingency, petitioners said the DBM may utilize the savings under the reenacted 2018 national budget.

The petitioners argued that the fourth tranche – being a continuing program – should be automatically given allocation in the national budget and should not depend on passage of the GAA for 2019.

They asked the SC to issue preliminary mandatory injunction requiring the DBM and Diokno to immediately release the fourth tranche of salary increases to government workers without waiting for the passage of the 2019 GAA.

Diokno earlier explained that the GAA is a necessary “legal basis” for such funding.   

The SC did not tackle the petition in their session last Jan. 15. Without the order from the SC sought in the petition, the DBM proceeded with its decision to withhold the fourth tranche of releases. – with  Edu Punay

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