New âsavingsâ definition allows Duterte to realign funds
Albay Rep Joey Salceda, vice chairman of the House appropriations committee, said parameters should be set to make sure that Congress is not giving the executive branch too much leeway or flexibility over the national budget.
Michael Varcas, file
New ‘savings’ definition allows Duterte to realign funds
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Ranking congressmen have questioned the authority given to President Duterte to continue using savings and realigning funds during a state of calamity without the need for approval of Congress.

During plenary debate on the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for next year, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate sought a clarification or removal altogether of a provision in House Bill No. 7727 or the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2021, which gives a new definition to “savings” and allows realignment of funds for programs, activities and projects contained in the appropriations law within the same year during times of national calamities without further intervention from Congress.

Salceda, vice chairman of the House appropriations committee, said parameters should be set to make sure that Congress is not giving the executive branch too much leeway or flexibility over the national budget.

“We will take it out unless there are parameters; this should be taken out,” Salceda said at the start of plenary deliberations on the budget last Monday.

He made the statement during interpellation by Zarate, who argued that the provision would give the Palace “unbridled power” to realign appropriations and “castrate Congress’ power of the purse.”

“Congress would be performing self castration if this pushes through and even its limited power of the coin purse would be further constricted. It is like converting the GAA into a blank check for the President’s whims,” Zarate argued.

“Budgetary matter is a power of Congress and we should not relinquish this power. Debates and discussions should be conducted to see if the funds being asked for are justified and proper oversight is practiced,” the deputy minority leader pointed out.

Zarate warned that the provision would make the budget “highly prone to abuse comparable to the Disbursement Acceleration Program or presidential pork barrel that was struck as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.”

Under the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by the Department of Budget and Management to Congress, the President as well as heads of the legislative and judicial branches and constitutional bodies are authorized to declare and use savings in their respective appropriations to augment actual deficiencies incurred for the current year in any item of their respective appropriations.

It defines savings as “portions or balances of any released appropriations in the proposed budget, which have not been obligated as a result of any of the following: completion, final discontinuance or abandonment of a program, activity or project for which the appropriation is authorized; or implementation of measures resulting in improved systems and efficiencies and thus enabled an agency to meet and deliver the required or planned targets, programs and services approved in this proposal at a lesser cost” and “allotments that were not obligated due to the fault of the agency concerned.”

The provision also allows the President to declare as savings funding in the final discontinuance or abandonment of a program, activity or project, whether released or unreleased, allotment for which remain unobligated, in case of a declaration of a state of national calamity as may be necessary to augment deficient programs, activities or projects in the Executive department or special purpose funds that are necessary to immediately address the existing calamity.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado earlier explained that the savings provision in the NEP is similar to the provision of the Bayanihan law and would apply in the event of a national emergency.

President Duterte has extended the effectivity of his proclamation declaring the nation under state of calamity due to the coronavirus pandemic for one year or until September next year.

FUNDS NATIONAL BUDGET
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