BUDGET watchdog Social Watch Philippines maintains its critique that the 2015 budget approved by the Senate on November 26, 2014 still contains the redefinition of “savings” and the possibility of its declaration at any time of the year. Such redefinition can perpetuate the pork barrel system and mechanisms similar to the Disbursement Acceleration Program, both of which have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Sec. 68 (b) of the Amendments to General Provisions also states that savings can result from the “discontinuance or abandonment of an ongoing program, activity or project (P/A/P) by the head of the agency concerned due to causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of the agency concerned which would not render it possible for the agency to implement said P/A/P, at any time during the validity of the appropriations.”
On its third and final reading, the P 2.606-trillion Senate approved budget defined “savings” as the “portions or balances of any released appropriations in the GAA which have not been obligated, whereas the House-approved bill does not require that the funds be released to be declared as savings, only that such funds have not been obligated,” according to Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
However, this does not reclaim the Congress’ vaunted power of the purse as savings can still be declared by the Executive at virtually any time of the year, as long as the funds have been released in appropriations.
“The issue of when to declare savings is an important question we should be asking. With the budget approved by both houses of Congress, the budget will still be primarily under the control of the Executive. If the Executive chooses to, it can declare savings from released appropriations and use it to fund DAP-like projects,” said Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones, Lead Convenor of Social Watch Philippines.
The Senate Finance Committee declared that it complied with the Supreme Court ruling on the DAP through a new general provision on the “Meaning of Augmentation” in Sec. 69, “which states that savings cannot be used to augment a non-existent Programs/Activities/Projects through the use of an appropriation not otherwise authorized in the subject General Appropriations Act.”
However, the provision does not address Executive’s extensive clout over the budget and offers no clarity over the time frame of the declaration of “savings”. This cuts across issues of transparency, accountability and the balance of powers among the three branches of government.
“We challenge both the government to retain the proper definition of savings, and we challenge the public to engage this issue further. We’ve said this time and again, that it is our money and that it should go where it ought to,” said Prof. Briones.
“We should not expect the government to act without us acting for our own interests,” she urged the people.