'Plunderous president can abuse new savings law'

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 01 2014 04:41 AM | Updated as of Aug 01 2014 12:41 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A "plunderous president" can abuse savings from the budget, according to Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, who warned his colleagues yesterday against redefining savings in a separate law or in a resolution just so funds can be made readily and legally available for projects.

“My apprehension is this: if savings is defined by resolution or by a specific law, there might be a character of permanence to it, which a future plunderous president may exploit,” he said.

Aggabao said two options being eyed by the chamber to redefine savings are passing a joint resolution with the Senate or enacting a separate law.

He said that in a resolution, Congress merely expresses an opinion. He said a resolution is not a law and therefore not legally binding.

He said a redefinition of savings may be included in the yearly General Appropriations Act, which is a law.

“If so embodied (in the GAA), not only would it (definition of savings) have the solemnity of a law; it would have the additional benefit of flexibility,” Aggabao told The STAR.

Under such setup, the definition of savings may thus be reviewed or adjusted on a yearly basis.

Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna party-list group have denounced President Aquino’s redefinition of savings, saying it undermines the Congress’ power over the purse as well as the system of checks and balance.

“This new definition will unduly delegate to the President the power to reappropriate budget in the middle of fiscal year,” Colmenares said.

“President Aquino is insisting that his unconstitutional acts be entrenched in the national budget. That is an act of defiance against the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.

One of the acts declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration is the use of savings for purposes not spelled out in the GAA.

Administration officials said the tack of using savings from slow moving projects has greatly contributed to the delivery of services and benefited the poor.

The government is appealing the SC ruling.

Meanwhile, senators from both the administration and the opposition have vowed to go over the proposed 2015 national budget with a fine-toothed comb to ensure no funds are wasted. –Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy