THE 17th Congress has resumed its regular session with deliberations on the proposed national budget for 2017 on top of its agenda. Indications are that the current crop of supposedly reformist lawmakers will continue to yield their “power of the purse” to Malacanang.
It’s very doubtful that Congress will even dare to touch the proposed P20.03-billion budget for the Office of the President despite its hefty increase of 690 percent from the current year’s P2.9 billion. The Philippine economy didn’t improve that much but what the heck, that’s the amount President Duterte wants, and that’s the amount he’ll get.
One controversial item in the OP budget is the proposed intelligence fund of P2.5 billion. This is equivalent to a 500-percent increase from the 2016 budget of P500 million. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno justified the five-fold increase, saying it’s needed for a successful campaign against illegal drugs.
Excuse me, but hasn’t the Duterte administration been claiming that it has been successful in waging war against drug pushers and users? Note that the current intelligence fund of Malacanang is only P250 million since the previous unlamented administration had already used half of the 2016 budget from January to June.
The strongest argument against the intelligence fund is not the gargantuan increase but the fact that it’s not needed at all. The OP is a user, not a gatherer of intelligence. It doesn’t need billions of pesos to use intelligence gathered by other agencies. If there’s a need for more intelligence funds, funnel the increase to the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, or even the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency that had even submitted to the Senate a “confidential” report sourced from a hoax posted in social media.
If you think the 500-percent increase in the intelligence fund is already scandalous, wait till you read this–the 2017 proposed budget for professional services and consultants will go up from the current P78.9 million to P2.1 billion. That’s a skyrocketing increase of 2,661 percent!
Now, I don’t know why President Duterte needs a lot of consultants. Don’t tell me that he wants to turn Malacanang into a huge employment agency.
The search for a rationale for the 2,661-percent hike in the budget for consultants needs a creative imagination. After all, he seldom consults others, even his Cabinet members. How often have we heard members of his Cabinet saying they couldn’t explain his pronouncements because they weren’t consulted at all?
Oh my! things get even more interesting. The proposed communications budget for Malacanang is P1.3 billion, up by 5,439 percent from 2016’s P23.9 million. The cost of internet services in the Philippines may be one of the highest in the region, but this is completely ridiculous.
A new law has just created the Department of Information and Communications Technology. The DICT needs the money more than the Office of the President. Cut the funding for OP communications and realign the cut to the DICT.
Hey, hey, wait a minute! There’s an even more astronomical hike in the proposed OP budget for 2017. This is the item for representation and entertainment which goes up from the current P139.3 million to P7.6 billion. That’s an increase of 5,455 percent, folks.
People will even wonder if such an increase is needed at all at a time when the easing of poverty is more urgent. Please tell me that the key role being played by Mocha Uson in the Duterte administration is not one of the reasons for the unprecedented hike in entertainment and representation expenses.
Sure, a few independent-minded lawmakers may try to trim the excess fat from the proposed budget, but their efforts will go for naught as long as Presidential Decree 1177 is not repealed or amended. This decree of martial law vintage empowers the President to restore the cuts made in the budget by the legislature, or even increase it or realign it to another department within the Executive branch.
In the United States, amendments to the budget made by Congress, called “earmarks,” are laws that the White House is duty-bound to respect. Not so in the Philippines.
If the Duterte administration follows the lead of previous ones, it will consider as “congressional insertion” all amendments to the budget proposed by Congress and, therefore, subject to Malacanang approval. It can decide whether or not to release the funds for the items proposed by Congress.
If Sen. Ping Lacson runs true to form, he will again introduce a provision in the proposed national budget prohibiting Malacanangfrom withholding (impounding) funds appropriated by Congress. In the 15th Congress, he was supported by Senators Miguel Zubiri and Loren Legarda who are with him now in the 17th Congress. The fathers of Senate President Koko Pimentel and Sen. Sonny Angara (former senators Nene Pimentel and Edgardo J. Angara) were also against the impounding of funds by the OP. I wonder if they’ll still support a provision against it should one be introduced.
The anti-impoundment provision is meant to ensure that the budget as approved by Congress will be fully implemented by Malacanang. This is one sure way for Congress to reclaim its power of the purse that has been hijacked for decades by Malacanang.
Oh, but President Duterte is strong-willed and it’s doubtful if he’d allow Congress to clip his wings. And it’s doubly doubtful if Congress would even dare to do so. In all probability, the proposed 2017 national budget will be a virtual blank check given by a spineless legislature to the President.