• Approved 2015 budget ‘pork laden’

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    The House of Representatives approved on second reading the proposed P2.606 billion national budget for 2015 minutes before midnight on Friday. The amount is P342 billion or 15 percent higher than this year’s budget of P2.264 trillion.

    But Minority Leader Neri Colmenares claimed that the budget measure was “pork laden” because it allows the President to stop the implementation of projects not to his liking and use the allocations for other programs.

    Lawmakers worked overtime to finish deliberations on the budget measure. The voting was finished at 11:50 p.m. Congress started its three-month break yesterday.
    Under the proposed budget bill, the social services sector will get the lion’s share—P967 billion, followed by the economic services sector, P700.2 billion and general public services, P423.1 billion. The fourth biggest allocation —P399.4 billion—will go for the payment of the country’s debts while P115.5 billion will be allotted for defense.

    The Department of Education will receive the biggest allocation—P364 billion. The Department of Public Works and Highways will get the second biggest at P300.5 billion, followed by the Department of National Defense, P144 billion, Department of Interior and Local Governments, P141.1 billion, Department of Social Welfare and Development, P109 billion, Department of Health, P102.2 billion, Department of Agriculture, P88.8 billion, Department of Transportation and Communications, P595 billion, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), P21.290 billion and Judiciary, P20.285 billion.

    Under the proposed 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) the definition of “savings” was expanded to include unspent appropriations from unfinished programs, activities or projects of government agencies in the first semester of the year. The change was introduced following the ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional. In its decision, the High Court said government savings can only be declared at the end of the year.

    Colmenares opposed the expanded coverage of savings, saying it will empower the President to stop projects of his political opponents by citing a “vague justifiable cause.”

    “Why is that the President’s message to agencies is use it or lose it? Lose it to DAP? That is not the message that he should send. What he should have said is that if you can’t use it, don’t propose it,” Colmenares said.

    He noted that the new definition of savings castrates Congress’ power of the purse.
    But Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, said the government’s goal “is to spend this budget, not to generate savings.”

    “We will stick with what is [provided]in the 2015 GAB. The intention of the government is to spend the budget, not keep it. There will only be savings if the budget is not spent according to what it is intended for,” Ungab said in an interview.

    He explained that under the proposed budget measure, savings should be used to augment existing items in the 2015 GAA and that the appropriation to be increased must be under the office that accumulated the savings.

    “For the 2015 budget, much of the allocations are disaggregated, and that means the implementation (of programs) will be faster,” Ungab said.

    Colmenares claimed that despite the SC ruling declaring DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional, the 2015 national budget is “pork-laden.”

    The lawmaker questioned the provision which defines savings as unspent programmed appropriations as a result of unfilled positions, discontinuance or abandonment of the program/activity/project (PAP) for justifiable causes, non-commencement of the PAP during the first quarter of the year and decreased cost resulting from improved efficiency during the implementation of after the completion by agencies of their PAP to deliver the targets and services.

    Colmenares viewed these provisions as a strategy to circumvent the SC ruling on DAP.

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