Why Senate should not allow the redefinition of savings and change the meaning of ‘errata’

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Last Monday, November 17, 2014 a number of interesting events happened in the Senate. In the morning, a necrological service was held for the much-loved Senator Juan Flavier. Two other related events took place: the referral to the Committee on Finance of the General Appropriations Bill (House Bill 4968) and a briefing by Social Watch Philippines on why the Senate should not allow the redefinition of savings and change the meaning of the word “errata.”

Even as the bill was debated in the House, Social Watch Philippines had been emphasizing that this bill is different from all the other appropriations act which both Houses of Congress have enacted before.

Oh yes, the usual PDAF-like items are still there. Even as the Supreme Court declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional, lump sums with pork characteristics persist in the 2015 General Appropriations Bill.

A review of at least five agency budgets showed more than P37 billion in lump sums for projects. These are the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Commisson on Higher Education, Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Public Works and Highways. The latter has an item for “Local Infrastructure Programs” totaling P18.3 billion.


And yes, the lump sums of the Executive are still there: Special Purpose Funds of P376.5 billion and unprogrammed funds of P123 billion, plus direct remittances from PAGCOR and PCSO.

Of course P866 billion in automatic appropriations are still in the budget, consisting of the interest payments for debt, internal revenue allotment, and the controversial Malampaya Funds and Motor Vehicles Users Charge Fund. Automatic appropriations are not usually reviewed in detail by both Houses.

Finally, there are the last-minute insertions, amendments, additions and “pahabols” which both Houses usually negotiate for.

SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

What is new is the redefinition of savings and the change in the meaning of the word “ERRATA.” These two changes will have a profound impact not only on the general appropriations act, but more important, the balance of power among the three branches of government, particularly between the Legislature and the Executive.

Changing the meaning of errata: revising the Latin language
All undergraduates struggling with their term papers have been taught that “errata” is the plural of “erratum.” It means errors, usually typographical errors.

The uproar started when the opposition complained that more than 100 pages of errata were submitted by DBM during the second reading of the general appropriations bill in the Lower House. During the third and final reading, opposition congressmen complained again that 269 pages of errata were submitted to the “Small Committee” of the House but the plenary was only given the summary.

Last Monday, after the briefing of Social Watch Philippines for the Senate, I finally had the opportunity to view, touch and peruse the famous errata. I even attempted to lift it. It turned out to be 640 pages of “errata sheets” plus a summary weighing all in all 3 kilos!

Dear readers have you ever heard of 640 pages of errata sheets, weighing three kilos? Is it fair to expect the Senators to insert all those errata sheets in the General Appropriations Bill and keep track of them?

Filipinos are well known for changing the meaning of English words. This time, the General Appropriations Bill will change the meaning of a Latin word whose meaning is generally accepted internationally and taught in all academic institutions.

A cursory examination of the “errata sheets” shows that it is a collection of amendments, additions, insertions and errors. How can the Senate pass a General Appropriations Bill with 3 kilos of errata?

Redefining savings: Implications on the balance of power between Executive and Congress
By now readers know that the major issue in the 2015 General Appropriations Bill is the redefinition of savings.

Section 68-69 of the General Provisions in the General Appropriations Bill defines the use and meaning of savings, augmentation and priority in the allocations of savings. At first glance, it looks and reads like the definitions in past bills. However, the addition of the phrase “at any time” totally changes the meaning of the word. The executive can declare savings “at any time.”

The above phrase is tantamount to delivery of Congress’s (both Houses) power of the purse to the Executive. Whatever is passed by the Lower and Upper Houses, whatever amendments and corrections they make can be easily erased with a declaration of “savings at any time.”

The redefinition of savings has been rationalized on the grounds that this is a prerogative of the Legislature and not necessarily a constitutional issue. The position of Social Watch Philippines is that the redefinition of savings is a constitutional issue. The original definition is based on constitutional provisions concerning balance of power. Any legislation that disturbs, demolishes and takes away the Power of the Purse of Congress is unconstitutional.

The Legislature cannot continue passing laws which diminish its own Power of the Purse. Through the years, automatic appropriations have been steadily increasing with more accounts released automatically.

This will be legislative suicide–a ritual hara kiri. If , God forbid, this happens, it will be time for another necrological service.

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12 Comments

  1. Wala yata tayong magagawa!
    Panahon ito ng mga buhaya at mga linta ang sobrang!!! Kapal ng mga mukha ng mga mambabatas natin ngayon at. Ang malalaking media ay sobrang sipsip hindi alam kung kailan hinhinto at gagamitin ang dignidad para sa bayan!@

  2. Am a 72yo senior citizen. During the time of Erap, i had experienced two years monthly pension increase of 10%. When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took power, she scraped that yearly 10% increase in our pensions. Sobrang lungkot ko pag nakakabalita ako ng mga pulitikong walang kabusugan; ang daming naghihirap na kababayan natin at matatandang ang inaasahan lang ay ang monthly pension nila na paliit nang paliit taon taon. Wala na bang pagasang mabalik yun 10% yearly increase sa pension namin? Parang awa nyo na! Pagtuonan nyo naman ito ng pansin!

    Alam kung wala rin kuwentang Pangulo itong si PNoy, pero mas gusto ko na matapos nya ang term nya kaysa bumaba sya at palitan ni Rambotito, na kabila pa sa dayukdok ang kagutuman. Oras na naupo si Rambotito, wag nyo asahan na may P’nas pang magigisnan ang lahi ninyo!

  3. Very credible ang mga revelations sa column na ito. Belmonte and his House of Lackeys are very willing to be used by the Executive because of rewards of hidden pork barrels kahit ito ay lantaran na, immoral at very dishonorable of them. Sa tingin kasi nila walang kakayahan magprotesta ang mga tao, dahil na rin sa kahirapan at ang focus ng mga tao ay paano maghanapbuhay at maghanap ng makain araw-araw. Bahala na ang senado kung gusto rin nila gayahin ang kongreso o magpakabayani. The choice is between honor or bribe money.

  4. Vicente Penetrante on

    Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chiz Escudero said that there would be substantial amendments in the 2015 budget. “None of these will be pork in whatever name or form.”
    He forgot to say anything about the definition of “savings” or how long and heavy are the number of pages of the “errata.”
    In the market, only porkchops have pork, others are named liempo, pata or pang-adobo, pang-tapa, etc.

  5. This administration and its party (liberal) have redefined “savings”, changed the meaning of “errata”, now, just recently has redefined the meaning of “quarantine”. May be they should put up their own dictionary.

  6. This administration and its party (liberal) have redefined “savings”, changed the meaning of “errata”, now, just recently has redefined the meaning of “quarantine”. May be they should put their own dictionary.

  7. Can this new definition of “savings” not be challenged in the Supreme Court especially since it circumvents the SC decision regarding the unconstitutionality of PDAF & DAP?

  8. What you seem to be reporting is Filipino style of trickle down economics. In the US trickle down economics indicates that a tax break for businesses will also benefit the poorer member of society ultimately. The appropriation bill in the Philippine Senate appears to be an attempt by people in power to line up their pockets and ultimately the money doled out for their projects would also benefit their wives, children, relatives, and friends. Tax money trickling down their own personal bank accounts to ensure that the reason by which they were elected is effectively achieved. The thing is that the manner in which they are doing it, is so blatant and brazen that no IQ or accounting expertise is required to understand what the politicians are trying to accomplish. We are past apathy and cynicism in terms of politicians behaving badly. Constantly, people know they have been abused that another abuse does not surprise anyone anymore. It’s like being a caged animal and whatever one does, cannot make any difference. So why scream and shout “bloody murder” when everyone knows who the culprits are but because our laws are toothless, we hear no evil and see no evil. People have developed feeling of helplessness because we have even first hand knowledge of politicians robbing the Filipino people blind. No smoke screen is used to hide this mendacity. People in power cannot be shamed anymore. They cannot be threatened with legal action or incarceration because they have all the protection both in law and money. Arguably, people in power are armed to the teeth. The hope that people like me has is that one of these days that the money they appropriated for themselves will trickle down to my community and ultimately to me in one form or another. I am fully aware that this is a defeatist attitude and worse than apathy. Perhaps, if I continue to read article like yours, it will make me angry enough to do something more constructive and helpful to alleviate the situation.

  9. pure and simple kawalanghyaan ang ginagawang panloloko ng congress sa bayan. dahil lang sa pork nila ay ibinebenta ang bayan at pinababayaan si boy sisi at abad na waldasin ang kaban ng bayan sa kung ano man ang maisipan ng dalawa, alam ng mga cong at sen ang batas pero binababoy nila para lang maka parte sa pork. AMORAL ang mga ito.
    prof briones sana ikaw at yung grupong social watch phil. ay magsampa ng urgent motion sa supreme court once na maipasa sa senado ang gaa. sana may inihanda na kayong motion para sa sc once pirmahan ni boy sisi ang gaa para maging batas. mabuhay kayo ng social watch phil.

  10. victor m. hernandez on

    I am totally shock and dumbfounded on this revealation about “errata” and “savings” that will be passed, if not already passed, as the in the GAA 2015. Apparently, the country has money oozing out of its ears that it doesn’t care how the money will be spent, or to spend in whatever way.

  11. I cannot belie it. Piipino legislators want to change word meanings for their selfish purpose. These thieves want to defy the dictionaries so they can continue to steal public money. Guinness should know about this.