Traditionally, the general appropriations measure is the single most important bill to be passed by the legislature in any given year. Not this year, not when this top story of the year in Congress reflects the abject surrender of its mandated power of the purse to Malacañang.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte is beating his breast over the House’s “harvest of meaningful and responsive legislation” bannered by the “timely passage” of the proposed 2015 P2.6-trillion General Appropriations Act and the P22.4-billion Supplemental Appropriations for 2014.
What he didn’t say was that the “timely passage” of the measure was marred by the Congress’s approval of the budget insertions by the Department of Budget and Management although the executive should no longer have any hand in the measure after its filing except to sign its enrolled copy.
The national budget that’s supposed to be the main instrument of the administration in implementing its priority projects and programs has become an instrument for distributing largesse among favored politicians. The GAA that’s meant to show the fiscal muscle of the legislature has revealed the abject acquiescence by lawmakers of the usurpation of their power of the purse by Malacañang.
Total capitulation by a supposed co-equal body is the only credible explanation for Congress’s readiness to empower the President to classify budget items as savings at any time of the year. With this special provision in the 2015 GAA, lawmakers have authorized the President to undo what they have approved after spending hours and days for committee hearings and floor debates on the budget. Why they had to go thru the motions of budget deliberations is inane to those who could discern that they had lost their muscle.
Approved without thinking!
Congress followed up this miserable approval of the GAA for 2015 with the thoughtless passage of the P22.4-billion supplementary budget for 2014. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who’s now the articulator of the conscience of the people, has rightfully questioned why a supplemental budget should be approved with only two weeks left in 2014. Senator Miriam, who should be our next president, pointed out that while Congress had authorized President Aquino to spend P1.73 trillion for the first three quarters of 2014, he had spent only P1.456 trillion.
She described the underspending of P274 billion as “staggering.” Many agree with her criticism that it was “ridiculous” to grant the Executive P22.4 billion in additional funds for the year when it had failed to spend P274 billion. Alas, her sound reasoning could not sway her fellow lawmakers who could only see things Malacanang’s way. Oops, I might add that Rep. Neri Colmenares and his fellow members of the Makabayan bloc had also waged a spirited but losing stand against this capitulation by Congress of its inherent power of the purse. Incidentally, Colmenares is now a “friend” in my Facebook account.
President BS Aquino The Last, I mean The Third, was no great shakes as a congressman for 9 years and a senator for 3 years. Yet, despite his forgettable stint in Congress, senators and congressmen except for a few have fallen prey to his blandishments, swayed by offers of the biggest “pork” ever in Philippine legislature.
What rankles more is that the administration even claims with a straight face that the budget is “pork-free.” If only the Aquino administration were more honest in its dealings with the public, it could expect fewer brickbats thrown its way.
Oh yes, I note that Senate President Franklin M. Drilon (FMD) didn’t cite the approval of the budget as the main achievement of the Senate. Rather, he named the three laws seeking to widen access to education as the stellar contribution of the chamber in the year. The first is Republic Act (RA) 10648 or the “Iskolar ng Bayan Act,” which gives automatic admission and provision of scholarship grants by all state colleges and universities to public high school students who belong to the top ten places of their graduating classes. Sen. Pia Cayetano and Rep. Roman Romulo are the main authors/sponsors of the measure in their respective chambers.
The two other education-enhancing laws cited by FMD are RA 10650 which widens access to tertiary education by institutionalizing open distance learning; and RA 10647 which strengthens ladderized interface between technical-vocational education and training and higher education in the country.
I may be too cynical but although these laws are beneficial if implemented properly, I consider them mere “consuelo de bobo” in the face of the lawmakers’ rapacious craving for pork.
Despite all these things, I wish everybody a Happy New Year.