THE House has approved the P3.35-trillion 2017 General Appropriations Act that President Rodrigo Duterte’s leftist allies claimed carries the restoration of a DAP-like provision giving the President “broad powers” to impound funds that they fear could be used for political purposes.
The new “insertion” has prompted the Makabayan bloc to demand the scrapping of the impoundment provision as the House is set to pass the budget on or before October 19, when Congress goes on a month-long session break.
The new provision provides that the President will have the power to impound the fund allocations for projects “in the case of an unmanageable national government budget deficit.”
But Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, allayed fears and maintained the budget remains compliant with the Supreme Court ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), portions of which were declared unconstitutional.
Nograles explained any impoundment will not become “savings” as feared and will have to be approved by Congress since the Palace would first seek permission from Congress as to why the funds needed to be impounded.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas lamented the impoundment provision or Section 51 which states: “The President of the Philippines, upon recommendation of the Department of Budget and Management may propose the rescission or deferral of appropriations from both Houses of Congress under any of the following: a) If the appropriations are no longer required to fulfill the objectives, originally sought to be achieved by the programs, activities and projects covering the same or b) In the case of an unmanageable national budget deficit.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio insisted Section 51 runs counter to or supersedes the Section 66 in the current budget that prohibits the impoundment of appropriations.
“If Congress passes this impoundment provision, we fear it may open a situation wherein the President and the DBM will be able to circumvent the General Appropriations Act or GAA by impounding the release of public funds at any time of the year and thus trample upon the congressional power over the purse,” Tinio said.
“This power can be used as a leverage by the ruling clique to control the release of funds based on political motivations,” Tinio stressed.
The proposed budget is up for approval on third and final reading next week and lawmakers could still make last minute individual amendments subject to the approval of the sub-committee on appropriations.
In a statement, the Makabayan bloc said Section 51 was inserted in the general provisions of House Bill 3408.
DAP, amounting to P143 billion, was used by President Benigno Aquino III to withdraw funds from approved projects in the budget mid-year and declared the funds as savings and reallocate them to purposes of his choosing to “pump prime” the economy.
Impoundment is the act of a sitting President not to spend or release funds appropriated by Congress.
Makabayan submitted its proposed amendment that included the scrapping of the insertion.
“If Section 51 gets approved, Congress’ power of the purse would be deemed meaningless,” Kabataan Sarah Elago lamented.
Tinio said Makabayan is alarmed that the DAP-like provision will be restored since the DAP was abused in the past.
“Why are we raising this alarm? Because we have already seen in the past administration how savings were used as a carrot and stick dangled by the Palace to its allies to do its bidding,” Tinio said.
Tinio said it was clear the Palace did not plan to realign the impounded projects for other purposes other than to return the funds to the national treasury and will seek the permission of Congress prior to its impoundment, Tinio acknowledged the Palace was not out to convert the funds into savings.
“Be that as it may, the act of impounding the funds alone means that the Palace was encroaching on the turf of a co-equal branch, which is Congress that has the power to scrutinize the Palace-proposed budget,” he said.
Tinio explained that the moment the Palace submitted the budget, the allocations for projects had already been predetermined.
During the submission of the national budget, along with the President’s budget message to Congress, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno assured the budget was compliant to the ruling of the Supreme Court.
“There is no DAP or (Priority Development Assistance Fund) in this budget. I will not allow it because I was among those who petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the DAP and PDAF illegal,” Diokno had pointed out.
Diokno, along with other personalities such as former national treasurer and Social Watch Philippines convener and now Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones and the Philippine Constitution Association or Philconsa, had successfully obtained favorable ruling from the high tribunal prohibiting Congress from “post-enactment” realignment of funds.
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