The 2015 proposed national budget is not only pork-laden, it is also unconstitutional because it allows the President to transfer an appropriation from one agency to another anytime of the year, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago disclosed on Monday.
In a privileged speech delivered before the plenary, Santiago said she received information that legislators will have control of P37.5 billion worth of projects allocated to five government agencies in the 2015 budget.
According to her, during the second half of 2014, legislators were asked to submit lists of projects they want to endorse for their districts. She said her source told her that the forms distributed to the members of the House of Representatives did not bear any letterhead.
“Why should anyone distribute a piece of paper and ask representatives of the [House of Representatives] to write down their projects? That’s the very essence of “pork barrelism,” Santiago noted.
In November last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel received by lawmakers every year is unconstitutional.
Santiago said the P37.5 billion was reportedly allocated to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
The DPWH got the biggest share with P18.369 billion for Land Infrastructure Program.
“It seems to be very much reminiscent of the old pork barrel practices and if that is the case then they are getting ready to institute the same pork barrel practices under the 2015 budget,” the senator said.
Santiago also questioned the new definition of the term “savings” in the 2015 budget for being “over-broad” and “vague.”
She also noted that under the over-breadth doctrine, if a statute is so broadly written that it deters free expression, it can be struck down on its face because of its chilling effect.
Under the new definition, the executive can declare savings anytime, Santiago said.
She explained that under the old definition, savings are unused funds either from discontinuance or abandonment of the work, activity or purpose for which the appropriation is authorized, while the new definition talks simply of discontinuance or abandonment at any time, which means it could be during the first month, first quarter or first half of the year.
“The old definition of savings was better. It allowed savings only after final discontinuance or abandonment of the work, activity or purpose. The new broader definition allows savings during discontinuance or abandonment at any time,” the senator said.
“What happens to the commitment to Congress of the agency head that the agency will deliver a specified level of outputs, such as number of school buildings, completion date, kilometers of roads, linear meters of bridges, and so on? What if certain projects that were funded out of ‘savings’ were later submitted for Congress-authorized but Department of Budget and Management (DBM)-discontinued projects? These are scenarios for corruption,” she pointed out.
To correct the “errors” in the 2015 proposed budget, Santiago recommended that Congress retain the original definition of savings. She said the current definition “demolishes and overturns not only the constitutional and legislated meaning of savings, it goes against the generally accepted meaning of the word itself.”
The senator also urged the Senate not to approve the budget unless the offensive redefinitions are removed.
Because of the importance and significance of the redefinition of savings, senators should explain their votes, she said.
“Those who will say “yes” in the Senate should also explain why they will shoot themselves, not only in the foot, but also in the heart. They have to explain why they will commit an act which is inimical to their own institution,” Santiago added.