MANILA, Philippines - While Congress is working on a definition of savings in the national budget, one of the leaders of the Senate believes this may not be the best course of action.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the Supreme Court (SC) had given general guidelines on how to determine savings as referred to in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the national budget.
“Savings could be generated only upon the purpose of the appropriation being fulfilled, or upon the need for the appropriation being no longer existent,” the SC declared.
Cayetano said this meant that savings should be “actual savings.”
“The safeguards are already found in the SC decision. I am not against defining savings and passing a supplemental budget,” Cayetano said.
He agreed Congress has the power to define savings but only if this has not yet been covered in the Constitution or the rulings of the SC.
Cayetano explained whatever Congress comes out with as far as a definition of savings is concerned should be consistent with the ruling of the SC on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), particularly on the use of savings.
In his State of the Nation Address last Monday, President Aquino asked Congress to come out with a joint resolution to define savings.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said Congress would respond to the call of the President and come out with a joint resolution to define savings.
According to Cayetano, the problem with this move is that some people could see this as a way to circumvent the ruling of the SC on the DAP.
“If we define it in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling, it will protect us against a plunderous president. But if we circumvent the law, not only is it promoting a plunderous president, even in this administration, it will be promoting secretaries to have less accountability,” Cayetano said.
“The definition has to be well crafted that it will not be perceived as circumventing the Supreme Court decision but rather it should be in furtherance really of public service,” he said.
Cayetano said there is a guarantee that it would be questioned and reverted back to the SC. “And unlike the first case that many people agree there may be good faith, if you circumvent this, it is already bad faith,” he added.
Opposition lawmakers at the House of Representatives said the Aquino administration is usurping the power of Congress if it continues to insist on a new definition of savings.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon warned of the dangers of the proposal.
Romualdez said if such is the case, the declared savings would be used to fund new projects and programs deliberated upon by Congress and listed in the national budget, which is a law.
“The early declaration of savings would not only affect or derail approved and studied projects it was taken from, but also would obviate the need for Malacañang to come to Congress and seek its permission for new or supplemental budget,” Romualdez said.
He said the executive branch seeking approval of lawmakers for its annual spending and Congress appropriating funds are part of the checks and balances in government.
Romualdez challenged his colleagues to block the huge lump sums in the proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 amounting to at least P500 billion.
Ridon, for his part, said Malacañang expects to retain at least P251.78 billion in “savings” for this year based on the proposed budget.
He said in the 2015 National Expenditure Program submitted to Congress last Wednesday, the government expects that some P251.78 billion of the P2.26-trillion GAA for 2014 will not be spent.
Of the P251.78-billion estimated unused appropriation for 2014, unreleased appropriations account for P175.3 billion, while unobligated allotments account for an estimated P76.4 billion, Ridon said.
Ridon said unreleased appropriations are funds for approved programs, activities and projects (PAPs) that have not been released by the Department of Budget and Management.
Meanwhile, unobligated allotments are funds already available for disbursement but have not been spent by the implementing agency for various reasons, including the final discontinuance or abandonment of a certain PAP.
Ridon said the Department of Budget and Management’s P251.78-billion estimated savings for 2014 are greater than the actual amount spent for the 116 projects under the DAP. – Paolo Romero