Approved without thinking: P26.7-B ‘mysterious ayuda’

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Another last-minute insertion in the 2024 national budget has been bared. The P26.7 billion was slipped in by the bicameral conference committee. Senators and representatives then ratified the bicam report. They are all thus answerable to the people for that hanky-panky.

Sen. Imee Marcos blamed her cousin House Speaker Martin Romualdez for the “magic.” Supposedly the latter concocted the P26.7-billion Ayuda sa Kapos sa Kita Program. AKAP was not in Malacañang’s proposed allotments for the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The bicam slid AKAP into this year’s General Appropriations Act, Marcos fumed. From it purportedly came bribes to penurious, ignorant signatories of the people’s initiative to abolish the Senate.

Marcos said AKAP was not among DSWD’s “ayuda” (doles) that she sponsored in the Senate’s budget hearings. She linked it to the P12 billion that the bicam “mysteriously” gave the Comelec, which never sought allotment for any unplanned plebiscite on the PI.

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa growled that the constitutional budgeting process has been reversed: “Why is Congress the one proposing funds instead of DSWD seeking Congress allocation for projects?” Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said he doesn’t remember AKAP tabled during Senate budget deliberations.

Pooh-poohing Marcos’ “exposé,” congressmen said she signed the bicam report that contained the P26.7-billion AKAP. Marcos contended that she affixed her digital signature since nothing transpired in the bicam except photo ops.

“Ayun nga, dahil House insertion ‘yun, talagang hindi namin alam kung ano ‘yung mga nilalaman non,” Marcos claimed. “Kasi kinukuha ‘yung aming mga e-signature tapos sila na lang ang naglalapat sa final version na hindi kami dapat makialam daw sa mga House insertion. Hindi ko naman alam kung anu-anong insertion, e nagtitiwala kami na wala namang kalokohan.”

Aprub without thinking, as Filipinos quip. Legislators ratified the bicam report as is, with P26.7-billion AKAP and P12-billion plebiscite budget that Comelec never sought.

But wait. Isn’t it the duty of legislators to scrutinize national budgets from start to finish? Don’t they owe it to the Filipino people who pay their salaries?

The bicam is an anomaly. It acts like a third but mini, secretive chamber of Congress. It defies the Constitution, which mandates only two Congress chambers: the Senate and House of Reps.

The Senate and House created the bicam as part of their rules. After a bill is separately passed, the Senate President and House Speaker appoint five or so members each to the bicam to align differing provisos.

Bicam panelists meet behind closed doors. Horse trading ensues. Discussions go beyond contradictory versions, ex-senator Panfilo Lacson disclosed in Ted Failon and Czarina Guevarra’s radio show: “New sections illegally are inserted.”

Lazy lawmakers and staff do not review bicam reports prior to ratification. More so budget bills that itemize appropriations in half a dozen volumes, each with thousands of pages.

Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel lamented that “our budget approval system is very rotten, very lacking in transparency.”

He wants it reformed, from budget proposing by Malacañang, to congressional committee hearings, plenary sessions and bicams. Every stage should be transparent, with the people involved, he said. “All expense items must be sufficiently described as to purpose, objective and scope or coverage.”

Legislators should do that right away. The Constitution requires it. Article XI, Accountability of Public Officers, Section 1 states:

“Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice and lead modest lives.”

The bicam should not be secretive. It is a mere committee of the Senate and House. Opacity violates Article VI, Legislative Department, Section 16(4):

“Each House shall keep a Journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may, in its judgment, affect national security; and the yeas and nays on any question shall, at the request of one-fifth of the Members present, be entered in the Journal.

“Each House shall also keep a Record of its proceedings.”

Budget insertions by the Senate, House or the bicam is prohibited. Section 25(1) requires:

“The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the Government as specified in the budget. The form, content and manner of preparation of the budget shall be prescribed by law.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM). Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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