Senator: Past excesses prompt tighter budget control-A A +A
Sunday, September 18, 2011
SENATOR Franklin Drilon, senior member of the Liberal Party at the Senate, said Sunday that Malacañang's perceived "control" over the budget process was prompted by excessive spending by the past administration.
The Executive branch has been criticized for what some lawmakers see as an attempt to create a source of discretionary funds for Malacañang.
Under the proposed budget for 2012, salaries for people that the government expects to hire next year are held in the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund that the Department of Budget and Management will keep in trust for government agencies.
Agencies will only get access to the fund after vacancies in their offices are filled. Previously, these were granted as a lump-sum appropriation.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Joker Arroyo have criticized the MPBF as a potential source for "pork barrel" funds.
Drilon said the provision was meant to prevent the conversion of money meant for salaries into "savings" that the agency can give away as bonuses.
He said the money will be pooled to prevent the conversion of the money into "pabaon" and other cash gifts to government officials and employees.
"This was the source of the pabaon (send-off) system in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)," he said, referring to corruption in the military that the Senate investigated earlier this year.
According to a former AFP budget officer, chiefs-of-staff were given gifts as a retirement gift. Their replacements were also given money as a welcoming gift.
Former AFP chiefs trooped to the Senate to deny the accusations.
Drilon explained that, in the past, discrepancies in troop ceiling -- the number of soldiers the military needed -- and actual troop strength were treated as discretionary funds.
"For example, the AFP will say that their troop strength is 100,000 and will ask for P100 million even if the actual troop strength is only 80,000," he said.
Drilon said the difference of P20 million was then given as gifts to retiring officials.
He said, however, that he understood the concern that Malacañang will use the MPBF for other purposes."Just to address that particular problem, (we can specify) that the budget there cannot be realigned if unspent. That can go to reducing the budget deficit."
Constitutional bodies like the Supreme Court, Offices of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Audit have also said that keeping money meant for them in the MPBF violate their fiscal autonomy.
Under the Constitution, they are supposed to receive appropriations automatically.
Drilon promised to look into the issue, saying the constitutional offices have a point.
"I think they also recognize that this money is not used for salaries but for bonuses," he said.
He said one solution to the potential constitutional issue is for agencies to fill their vacant positions.
He previously pointed out that at least a quarter -- 550 courts – of courts in the judiciary lack judges. He urged the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over the judiciary, to look into the matter.
Last week, Senator Edgardo Angara said a Budget department order barring heads of government departments and agencies from lobbying Congress for bigger budgets violated the legislature's right to realign government spending.
He said the order, which told top officials "to present and stand by the President's budget as submitted to Congress" should be brought to court.
But Drilon said the prohibition was within President Benigno Aquino III's rights as head of the executive branch.
The National Expenditure Program, or the President's budget, is submitted to Congress as a basis for the national budget bill.
Drilon said if Cabinet secretaries were allowed to change the President's budget, then "the President's budget will be useless."
He added that the memorandum will not keep Congress from giving agencies more money "subject to Constitutional limitations."
Congress can realign but cannot increase the budget beyond the P1.816 trillion that the House of Representatives approved on second reading late Friday night.
He said, however, that the President still has the power to veto items on the budget.
"That is why, during the GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) administration, she put a conditional veto on P60 billion in Congressional insertions. The President has the power to do that," he said. (Jonathan de Santos/Sunnex)