Lawmakers oppose expanded savings

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SOME lawmakers are vehemently against the proposal to expand the coverage of savings because they fear that it will “castrate” Congress’ power over the purse.

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House Deputy Minority Leaders Rodito Albano of Isabela and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list, House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list and Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list opposed the plan to redefine savings by allowing government agencies to declare savings before year-end to fund priority programs of the Aquino administration.

“Yes, savings should be defined by Congress. We have to talk about that. But we won’t allow them to haphazardly declare a certain appropriation in an agency as savings and realign it in other agencies. They cannot do that. The Supreme Court already gave us power to define savings. We should not throw that away again and be willing victims of abuse,” Albano said in a telephone interview.

The House leadership is keen on redefining the savings in light of the High Court decision declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program illegal.

“If an infrastructure project in Isabela was slow-moving because of the inclement weather since we are in the coastal area, they want the budget for that to be immediately declared [as]savings? We will lose a project just like that? Might as well ask Congress for a blank check so they can fund whatever project they want. What is Congress for?” Albano said.

When he submitted the proposed P2.606 trillion 2015 budget to Congress on Wednesday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said savings can be generated at any time of the year.

On Thursday, Rep. Ben Evardone filed House Bill 4770, which will allow agencies to declare savings any time of the year and provides that savings will come from programs under laws that had been repealed or declared illegal, unimplemented programs because of natural or man-made events beyond the control of the implementing agency, abandonment of a program, completion of a program, unfilled positions and efficient implementation of programs.

“Monies collected, especially from taxation, are meant to be spent, not saved. Slow implementation of programs and projects encourages inefficiency and thus a great disservice to the tax-paying nation,” Evardone said in his measure.

But Colmenares disagreed, saying expanding savings will unduly delegate to the President the power to reappropriate budget in the middle of a fiscal year.

“President Aquino is insisting that his unconstitutional acts be entrenched in the national budget. That is an act of defiance against the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.

Tugna, an administration lawmaker, partly agreed with the opposition but clarified that amending the definition of savings is not about expanding the coverage of savings but merely clarifying it.

“The definition must not be too broad as to violate the limitations imposed by the Constitution. Savings must come from items in the appropriations, be used to augment items in the appropriations, and the appropriations must be within the office of the office using the savings,” the congressman, a lawyer, said.

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