President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino The Last, I mean The Third, has tasted the intoxicating power of exercising full control over the budget and I doubt if he would ever part with it while he’s in Malacanang. It seems his followers don’t mind if his principled stand before has already fallen by the wayside. So what? He still has other principled stands worth praising anyhow!
It doesn’t matter that when he was a senator, he wanted then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to faithfully implement the national budget as passed by Congress. During that time when he was still outside looking in, he found it detestable for Malacanang to withhold funds appropriated by Congress and transfer them to other projects. He filed then an anti-impoundment measure so Malacanang could not trifle with the legislature’s inherent power of the purse. Now, he and his admirers are all justifying his use of the power that he used to criticize. That’s “tuwid na daan” for you!
Others may have a different interpretation of what budget impoundment means. But in my simple mind, this takes place whenever Malacanang withholds funds appropriated by Congress. Thus, BS Aquino impounded the budget when he stopped the release of funds for what he considered slow-moving projects and placed them elsewhere based on his own sense of priority. The lawmakers who find nothing wrong with the Disbursement Acceleration Program don’t care a whit about the diminution of their inherent power. The fact is, impoundment makes the arduous task of the legislature in passing the budget virtually useless.
The lawmakers who are genuinely concerned with the usurpation of this power by Malacanang should press for the passage of the bill of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago banning the impoundment by Malacanang of the budget. I expect the President to say nothing about this bill, which Senator Miriam has acknowledged to be a mere refiling of the bill of then Sen. BS Aquino in the 14th Congress.
In the previous Congress, I had heard Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano bewail a number of times Malacañang’s refusal to release funds appropriated by Congress. The fathers of Senators Koko Pimentel and Sonny Angara, Nene and Edgardo, respectively, also supported the move to ban the impoundment of the budget so I presume they share the same sentiments. Then Sen. Mar Roxas can exercise his persuasive influence over members of the Liberal Party to back the measure that he had supported strongly before.
I also remember that 173 congressmen supported the inclusion of a special provision in the 2010 budget against impoundment. I don’t know how many of them are still members of the House. Thus, it should appear that proponents have a big chance of passing the anti-impoundment measure – unless Malacañang lobbies against it.
In his first year in office, BS Aquino asked Congress not to amend the national expenditure program for 2011. The spineless congressmen and senators acceded. That request gave impressions that he wanted to implement his proposed budget as is. While he got what he wanted, he still didn’t follow the approved budget. I found this strange then but not now, knowing that Malacañang considered the withheld funds as “savings” to be realigned wherever it wanted. The late Rep. Rolly Andaya, the best appropriations chairman ever, once said that having savings is a cardinal sin in budgeting. Under the present administration, this is not a cardinal but a supreme virtue.
Malacañang apologists are saying that the DAP has done well for the country and yet, they couldn’t identify the projects where it was used, the “slow-moving projects” where they were sourced, and how much was used. How can they say it did well when they don’t know the details?
Budget Secretary Butch Abad had refused to give details about the DAP because there was a pending case before the Supreme Court questioning its constitutionality. Now that the high tribunal has issued a decision, what’s keeping him from furnishing the public the needed info?
If Malacañang has nothing to hide, it should provide details about the DAP pronto. These are of recent vintage so it couldn’t hide behind the excuse that they have a hard time collating the needed papers. That’s the excuse Abad gave when asked why he was unable to provide the Commission on Audit details and documents on how several lawmakers (most of them Malacanang allies) had used their Priority Development Assistance Fund.
And if BS Aquino is truly sincere in following a straight path, he should immediately order Abad to release to the COA all details on his use of his pork barrel during his 12 years as a lawmaker.