IT just so happened that the very first piece of news I read yesterday morning when I woke up was a brief report that President BS Aquino 3rd, upon the request of “the House leadership” had certified next year’s P3-trillion budget bill as “urgent.”
In practical terms, a bill “certified as urgent” by the President is one that can take precedence over other pending measures; the designation allows the Congress to move it up the list of items of business to attend to without violating its own rules.
In political terms, the certification is an instruction from the President to Congress about what work he wants them to do.
The notion of separation of powers and constitutional independence of the different branches of government was declared dead and buried about the time Aquino stuck his hand back in his pocket after raising it to take his oath as president five-plus years ago, but as accustomed as we have become to that state of affairs, the lack of a reason for the Legislature to actually exist in the era of “daang matuwid” still surprises us from time to time.
Taken at face value, the request for the budget bill’s “certification” looks like an admission on the part of Congress that it is unable to deduce on its own that producing a national budget is indeed an important task that must be completed. That is, however, not really the case. What is happening here is that the Administration’s operatives in Congress are grappling with the unsavory task of passing what might be at least a partly illegal budget, because it contains exactly the sort of poorly-defined lump sum appropriations that have already been specifically declared invalid by the Supreme Court in its rulings against the PDAF and DAP; at least one petition to the Court has already been filed challenging the budget, and that petition may find some legal traction, as Budget Secretary Butch Abad has already admitted in hearings in the Senate that about P684 billion in lump sums do exist. Critics of the administration say the figure is much higher, probably closer to P1 trillion, once smaller lump-sum line items in individual agency budgets are added up; for example, the Department of Agriculture budget contains about P11.87 billion in lump sums.
By asking the President to certify the budget bill as “urgent,” his allies in Congress are simply covering their asses. The designation allows them to rush the passage of the questionable measure without incurring the ire of the President now, and when implementation of the budget is interrupted later by Supreme Court intervention they can deflect the blame to Malacañang.
Of course, all these political shenanigans have real-world impacts on the economy and the day-to-day business of the country, which is an outcome the current government – Executive and Legislative branches alike – has either failed or not cared to understand, ever. Chronic underspending throughout the entire duration of the Aquino 2.0 era has had a negative effect on economic growth, and that underspending can be directly traced to poor planning in the form of excessive lump sums. It is, on a larger scale, very similar to the difference in results one sees when shopping for groceries with an itemized list worth P1,000 compared to just walking into the store with P1,000 and only a general idea about what to buy; the latter method nearly always results in something important forgotten.
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While we’re on the topic of Congress passing legislative measures, I’d like to suggest that they consider not passing any version of the Bangsamoro law operationalizing the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front until some further investigation into the MILF’s ties to Malaysia is conducted.
Over the past several weeks, because I am naturally inquisitive, I have been researching the growing scandal surrounding Malaysian PM Najib Razak and 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the sovereign wealth fund he created back in 2009, and which is now more than $11 billion in debt and under investigation for fraud in no fewer than six different countries. One of the questions I had was whether there was any truth to the rumors that the Malaysian government had paid $750 million to the Aquino government to ensure passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and if so, was that sum connected in any way to the 1MDB scandal.
So far, I have found no evidence to suggest that government-to-government bribe ever took place, nor any suggestion that Mindanao is being eyed as a destination for any Malaysian government-related investment. All available resources, including knowledgeable people in Malaysia, Mindanao, and a few other places, available government and corporate records, and a lot of fine work already done by Malaysian journalists, indicated that the rumors were just rumors.
Until Wednesday night, that is, when I received a pointed suggestion that I should stop asking so many questions, which caused me to spend most of Thursday and yesterday giving that suggestion due consideration.
It’s been my experience that suggestions like that usually are not made without some reason. It may be of some benefit to the people of Mindanao to find out what that reason is.