THE Senate on Wednesday approved on third and final reading the P2.606-trillion budget for 2015 that the chamber claimed to be pork-free and compliant with the Supreme Court’s decision that outlawed the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Voting 13-0, the Senate passed its version of the 2015 national budget with several special provisions concerning four government agencies.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the budget measure defines “savings” as “the portion or balances of any released appropriations in the General Appropriations Act which have not been obligated.”
A provision in Section 68 disallows the cross-border or transfer of funds which is among the reasons why the Supreme Court declared the DAP unconstitutional.
Escudero said there are three instances when savings can be declared by government agencies —if a certain project was disallowed by the court; if the area where the project will be implemented was devastated due to natural and man-made disasters and proceeding with the project is unnecessary and if the bid price on the project was lower than that allotted by the government.
The bill included several special provisions on the budgets of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Museum.
The PSC budget should also be used in providing assistance to athletes who are not members of any existing National Sports Association (NSA) but who will be competing in behalf of the country. The DPWH, meanwhile, will be required to consult heritage agencies before the construction on any infrastructure project to make sure that the project will not impinge on heritage sites, while the DOH should not include in its budget allocation the purchase of family planning commodities that are not certified by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
The Senate and the House of Representatives will start bicameral deliberations on the budget next week.
The opposition, meanwhile, called for a thorough scrutiny of the budget to ensure that it will not be used as the administration’s “giant” Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in 2016.
UNA interim president Rep. Tobias Tiangco said the House of Representatives hastily passed the budget bill to conceal funds intended as pork barrel and other insertions, which, he added, are meant to be part of the Liberal Party’s campaign kitty for 2016.
Tiangco said the proposed budget contains “many objectionable features” that were “waylaid” in the budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“[There is] P37.3 billion in lump-sum funds under five departments, aside from the revival of savings [for use as DAP-like funds]. [A new definition of ‘savings’ will allow] the executive to freely overrule the will of Congress. This is done in bad faith, to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of DAP,” he noted.
“This is not the first year that this has happened. In fact, for five consecutive years, Section 26, Paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution has always been abused. This states that ‘No bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed three readings on separate days,’” Tobias said.
So [what is happening in]Congress is, we get copies [of the 2015 budget]one hour before voting. How do you read 4,010 pages in one hour? So, the intention is so that it will not be read. [The 2015 General Appropriations Act is even more illegal because Budget Secretary Florencio Abad makes insertions appear as] errata. 269 pages of errata?
[But in the end, we will lose in the voting]. It’s a good thing that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago raised this issue [that the 2015 budget has ‘pork’],” he added.