EDITORIAL — ‘Very rotten’

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � �Very rotten�

A process has long been in place for the approval of the national budget. Malacañang, through the Department of Budget and Management, submits its proposed national expenditure program to Congress, and both chambers deliberate on the NEP to come up with their respective versions of the budget bill.

Conflicting provisions are reconciled and contentious items discussed at the bicameral conference. The resulting measure is presented to both chambers for ratification. The General Appropriations Act or GAA is then forwarded to the President for signing into law.

With the ongoing verbal tussle between senators and congressmen, it’s clear that there are holes in the process that need to be addressed. At the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III described the budget process as “very rotten” and needing improvement to promote transparency.

Pimentel issued the statement after Sen. Imee Marcos expressed surprise about the inclusion of a P26.7-billion allocation for an aid program that officials of the recipient Department of Social Welfare and Development said they did not ask for or propose in their budget for 2024. Marcos said the Ayuda para sa Kapos ang Kita or AKAP program of the DSWD, whose 2024 budget she had defended during the Senate deliberations, was inserted without her knowledge during the bicameral conference.

Members of the House of Representatives shot back that Marcos plus 20 other senators signed the bicameral conference report with the AKAP program in it. Marcos noted that it was an electronic signature and she must have overlooked the item. She also stressed that there was no proper discussion of the P26.7-billion AKAP at the bicameral conference, which she described as nothing more than a photo opportunity.

What’s clear is that the AKAP was not proposed by Malacañang or the agency that is supposed to implement the program, the DSWD.

Following the corruption scandal that erupted over the Priority Development Assistance Fund or congressional pork barrel, the Supreme Court effectively prohibited lump sum appropriations and the earmarking of projects and programs by lawmakers for public funding after the annual GAA has been enacted.

This time, if Senator Marcos is correct, congressmen appear to have found another venue to insert their pet projects for funding by taxpayers, outside the executive’s NEP, but before the signing of the GAA: the bicameral conference committee. Pimentel has a sound proposal: congressional budget deliberations must be opened to the public, from the submission of the NEP up to the bicameral conference, for full transparency and the judicious use of people’s money.

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