Senate funds cut; House gets increase

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 05 2014 04:36 AM | Updated as of Aug 05 2014 12:36 PM

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has reduced funding for the Senate but increased the budget for the House of Representatives for next year.

In his P2.606-trillion 2015 budget proposal, Aquino cut funding for the 24 senators, their committees, staff and secretariat to P3.154 billion from P3.344 this year, or by P190 million. The Senate had P3.048 billion in 2013.

It is not clear if the reduction is related to the detention of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile, who are facing plunder cases before the Sandiganbayan.

The Sandiganbayan has ordered a three-month suspension of the three, who are accused of receiving kickbacks from alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

For the 300-member House, Aquino’s proposed budget is P221 million more at P6.846 billion, from this year’s P6.625 billion.

If the reduction stands, senators will have to make do with lesser money for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), which will go down by P158 million, from P1.571 billion to P1.413 billion.

Aquino did not include a provision for capital outlay (CO) for the Senate. This year, it has P47.4 million for CO.

However, funding for salaries will go up, from P1.726 billion to P1.741 billion.

Even with its reduced outlay, the Senate will still have P543 million for the hiring of consultants, P229 million for travel, P84.5 million for representation expenses and P225 million for renting offices.

MOOE funding for the House will also go down from P3.386 billion to P3.204 billion, or by P182 million.

However, its CO provision will go up by P304 million, from P150 million to P453.7 million, while money for salaries will increase by nearly P100 million, from P3.088 billion to P3.189 billion.

Included in the congressmen’s 2015 budget is P1.8 billion for the hiring of consultants and other professional services, P618 million for travel, P128 million for representation and P155 million for extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses.

For the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), Aquino is proposing P120.3 million for next year, up by more than P33 million from this year’s P87.1 million.

It is not clear why the President is seeking an increase in SET funds, considering that the tribunal has no case to resolve.

Senior Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio chairs the Senate tribunal, in which two other SC justices and six senators sit. Tribunal members received allowances of more than P1 million a year.

For the Commission on Appointments, the President is seeking P502.4 million, down from this year’s P538.5 million.

For the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), Aquino is recommending P142.7 million for 2015. Its current budget is P148 million.

Unlike the SET and the Supreme Court functioning as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), the HRET had received more than 30 election protests after the May 2013 elections. It is still resolving those protests.

SC Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the highest-paid member of the judiciary, chairs the HRET.

According to a Commission on Audit (COA) report on salaries and allowances of bureaucrats, Velasco was paid P5.7 million last year – P3.3 million from the SC proper, P1.6 million from HRET and P822,000 from the SC as the PET.

Two other SC justices sit in the HRET, along with six House members. They receive up to P1.6 million a year in allowances.

Meanwhile, Rep. Terry Ridon of party-list group Kabataan said the SC is likely to strike down a law on redefining government savings and allowing their declaration and use before the end of each budget year.

He said he and other party-list colleagues would challenge such a law before the SC.

“We are confident of a favorable ruling,” he said.

Ridon pointed out that the SC decision declaring some practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional disallows the use of savings before the end of each year for projects not specified in the General Appropriations Act.

“Any law redefining savings will have to conform to the Supreme Court ruling on DAP,” he added.

Better uses

For Sen. Ralph Recto, savings should be put to better use, like for reducing debt servicing and taxes instead of just being put under the control of the executive department.

“Why should we leave it only to one branch of government to determine (what to do with savings)?” Recto asked.

Recto said he is ready to defend his “conservative view” once the Senate starts deliberations on proposals to redefine savings under the GAA.

“It will be better under the budgeting process, I think, savings should be used to reduce the deficit. Remember, we should not be fast with people’s money,” Recto said. “Bawasan natin ang utang ng Pilipinas (Let’s cut the nation’s debt).”

As debates over the nature of savings continue, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said Congress should instead “codify” rules, including “best practices and reforms” on public sector budgeting rather than make piecemeal amendments to budget laws.

“The time has come to revisit all laws on public expenditures,” Angara said.

He cited in particular Presidential Decree 1177, issued by Ferdinand Marcos in 1977, and Executive Order 292, or the Administrative Code of 1987, which came into force a year after Corazon Aquino assumed power.

“In fact, according to budget experts, whole sections of PD 1177 were attached to the Administrative Code. To a large degree, the portion on national government budgeting, which is Book VI, was copy-pasted from PD 1177,” he said.

“They were not products of the legislative branch, but by a presidency possessing lawmaking powers,” he said, referring to PD 1177 and EO 292.

“But that should not be the excuse for consolidating all laws pertaining to government budgeting under one code. The main reason should be the wealth of experiences, reforms, initiatives, lessons of the Philippine budgeting system,” Angara pointed out.

“For example, in 1987 when the present Administrative Code took effect, the national budget was P121 billion. It has grown by 21-fold since. For next year, the proposed budget is P2.6 trillion,” he said.

Angara also said the revolution in information technology has made more pressing the need to amend the two antiquated executive decrees.Drilon said. – Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy