President BS Aquino is truly a man of his words, and I do mean words, not word. He reminds me of what wit Groucho Marx once said: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have many others.”
As a senator, he filed a bill that sought to strengthen the Legislature’s power of the purse.
That was when he was with the opposition to the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Now that he is president, he is intent on making Congress’ “Power of the Purse” nothing but pure myth. Why, he is so sure of his latest stand that he’s even daring his critics to impeach him! See? Our president can really make the best of both worlds!
The bill filed by then Senator BS Aquino sought to prevent the Executive department from trifling with the General Appropriations Act passed by Congress after many hours and days of hearings, debates and amendments. The bill, had it been enacted, would have kept Malacanang from withholding or impounding funds already approved by Congress or from moving them around to other departments. Had it been enacted, the Disbursement Acceleration Program would have been impossible to carry out.
Impounding of funds by Malacanang renders useless Congress’ arduous task of passing the budget. BS Aquino, the senator, was among the lawmakers who were irate that the budget as implemented by Malacañang was different from that enacted by Congress. They can do nothing because the Supreme Court has already affirmed the power of Malacanang to impound funds. It will be a different matter if an anti-impoundment law is passed.
On his first year as president, BS Aquino made it clear that he didn’t want any amendment to his proposed budget, called the National Expenditure Program (NEP). He then went on a “savings spree” that resulted in the accumulation of billions for the DAP and pork barrel allocation three-times bigger than that given by his predecessor annually. (I remember the words of the late Rep. Rolando Roda Andaya, the best chairman ever of the House Committee on Appropriations: “Having savings is a cardinal sin in government budgeting.”)
The trouble with Malacanang is that it considers any amendment to the NEP as “congressional insertion” that required justification before releasing any fund. With its power to impound, Malacanang has the ultimate, unquestioned power to decide whether to release funds or not, how much to release, depending on what it considers its top priorities, never mind the priorities of the legislature. In the United States, which has a Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the White House can’t go against the wishes of the US legislature. This holds true even when the funding is morally indefensible like the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a $400-million bridge construction project leading to an island in Alaska with only 50 residents.
“Under American law, if the President discovers an enacted appropriation which has not been spent, the President cannot just cancel the appropriation. The President must first ask Congress for a rescission, meaning a cancellation or cut-back of appropriated funds for a project no longer considered necessary. The President cannot act by himself alone. Such a law would restore the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches,” Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago explained.
Rep. Neri Colmenares (Party-list, Bayan Muna) and colleagues in the progressive bloc have filed a bill seeking to prevent the impoundment of funds by Malacanang. Senator Miriam said she would refile the bill of BS Aquino
All legislators who want Congress to get back its inherent Power of the Purse should support this bill, just like BS Aquino did when he was still a lawmaker. Of course, the president is now justifying the impounding of funds. Didn’t I say that he’s a man of his words?
Oh yes, the impoundment of funds isn’t the only issue where BS Aquino has taken two stands. There’s his opposition, as senator to the continued reappointment of Cabinet members bypassed by the Commission on Appointments, and his continuing reappointment of such bypassed members of his official family. And what about his stands on the Freedom of Information Act?
But after all is said and done, he still gives us the distinction of being the only country in the world with a real BS for president. Other countries, especially in Southeast Asia, may have more foreign investments and more tourists but they couldn’t claim to have a BS for a head of state.
Congratulations to the Manila Times which will be celebrating its 115th anniversary on Friday, October 11. I’m mighty proud of belonging to this paper and I’m sorry if my column is one of the reasons why Manila Times is often subjected to cyber attacks.