Budget debates

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, August 18, 2014


FOR much of the rest of the year Congress will be discussing Executive branch proposals for the 2015 national budget which amounts to P2.606 trillion. These discussions are important since Congress is constitutionally empowered to decide how funds should be allocated.

There is a tendency to focus on expenditure but Congress needs to examine the proposed income streams to see if they are realistic. Previous budgets have overestimated income with the result that budget deficits are greater than predicted.

Cumulatively, deficits comprise the national debt. Debts needs to be repaid and the 2015 budget shows P399.4 billion is the current debt servicing requirement. A substantial amount, over 15 percent of the total budget, which shows that debts should be minimized and, when they occur, monitored and controlled.

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A feature of PNoy’s term is that there has been a steadily increasing degree of difficulty in obtaining budget approval from Congress. The 2011 national budget of P1.645 trillion was passed without much debate in 2010. Successive budgets have sought and obtained rapidly increasing amounts with at least a 10 percent increase in over the previous year.

The 2012, 2013, 2014 national budgets were P1.816 trillion, P2.006 trillion, and P2.265 trillion, respectively.

There has been increasing concern in Congress about the budget.

Constitutionally, Congress has “the power of the purse” which is accepted in the United States of America but which does not travel well. The Executive Branches in countries, including the Philippines, which has a substantially American-style Constitution, finds it irksome that its power of the purse is curtailed.

The tension between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch becomes heightened. Money is power and the Executive Branch seeks the power that money brings. Various ruses, such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) have been used to ensure that the Executive Branch has money but the Supreme Court (SC) has decided that PDAF is unconstitutional and DAP is largely so.

There is a generally-held view that some of the funds that the Executive Branch has obtained in the past has been corruptly deployed. Even when not corrupt, there is the opinion shared by the cynical ones that money, or the implied promise of money, is used to buy Congressional acquiescence to Presidential views. The result of the Corona impeachment trial is tainted with this allegation.

The President’s reaction to the SC rulings is disappointing. The SC has a referee-like role in interpreting the rules (the Constitution) and it is unsporting not to accept the referee’s decision with good grace.

PNoy’s petulance does not add to his standing, particularly when some PDAF and DAP funds have allegedly been used corruptly. If PNoy wants to reduce corruption, he should support those processes promulgated by the SC which reduce corruption opportunities.

We sense some Executive Branch sophistries with regard to 2014 budget manipulation. There has been concern expressed by all about the lack of facilities required to provide quality education to the nation’s one million public school students.

The Department of Education (DepEd) has received favorable treatment from Congress with regard to the budget. The 2014 Education budget was stated recently by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to be P309 billion. This, however, is P20 billion less than the budget approved by Congress in December 2013. What is going on? Is the Executive Branch trying to build a nest egg so that it can use funds for its own purposes without the inconvenient gaze of Congress?

The budget debate will revolve as to whether there should be “wiggle room” so that in 2015 the Executive branch can still deploy funds as it wishes. Congress has a duty to its constituents not to allow this to happen. We would like to see our elected representatives work vigorously, without acting on the fear of Executive Branch retribution, to ensure that the budget and its implementation meets Congressional requirements.*

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 18, 2014.

Opinion

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