The Supreme Court (SC) would accumulate at least P2 billion worth of savings in 2015 because it had authorized itself to declare savings out of the fund from unfilled positions anytime.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, made the disclosure on Friday after the first meeting of the bicameral conference committee for next year’s P2.606-trillion budget held at the House of Representatives.
Escudero noted that while the High Court ruled that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was unconstitutional, the same ruling provided that unfilled positions can be a source of savings and such savings could be declared anytime of the year.
The DAP was a spending program that allowed agencies under the executive branch to declare their unspent appropriations as savings and subsequently realign such allocations to the administration’s priority projects, including those proposed by lawmakers.
“They expressly stated that [in the DAP ruling]. That is why the savings from the unfilled positions were not covered by the DAP ruling because the [SC] declared their unused budget from unfilled positions as savings anytime. For 2015 alone, the Supreme Court can generate much as P2 billion in savings. And since they enjoy fiscal autonomy under the Constitution, the fund is under their discretion, “ Escudero said.
He argued that this provision in the DAP ruling proved that Congress’ proposal to redefine savings by setting four conditionalities when savings can be declared without necessarily waiting for the end of year was compliant with the SC ruling.
The four conditionalities are: Final discontinuance or abandonment of an ongoing program because of causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of an agency; non-commencement of the project because of natural or man-made causes; decreased cost resulting from improved efficiency during implementation; and difference arising between the approved budget for the contract and the contract award prices.
Escudero said Congress would not risk violating the High Court’s DAP ruling because every move of the lawmakers can be easily construed as criminal, if not illegal, in light of the ruling against the legality not only of the DAP but also the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
“We can’t change that. If we do [thru a law], the Supreme Court and critics will say they are being choked by Congress… that their hands are being tied by Congress,” he added.
Escudero warned that government officials misdeclaring or misusng savings in the 2015 budget will face lawsuits.
“The determination on whether the project would still push through and that the budget for it will now go to savings is on the head of the agency. We have to remember that if they decide that the project should be discontinued because of their own doing or negligence, they, including the DBM, who will allow misdeclaration of savings, will be subject to a lawsuit for invalid use of savings and appropriations,” Escudero said.