MANILA - President Aquino's proposal for a 2.6 trillion-peso national budget in 2015 gives him powers akin to what he exercised under the unconstitutional disbursement acceleration program (DAP), a lawmaker said Wednesday.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares grilled Budget Secretary Butch Abad about this during the Development Budget Coordinating Committee's presentation of the proposed 2015 national budget before Congress today.
Colmenares singled out the budget's proposed redefinition of savings, which is meant to address the ruling of unconstitutionality on the DAP.
"Redefinition of savings, ito crux of the matter. Sabi doon savings refer to portions of balances of appropriations, not released or obligated as result of discontinuance or abandonment of project of any cause at any time...Pwede niya stop at any time possible," he said.
Abad confirmed this. "Pwede ma-stop. There's a standard. Congress can define that."
Colmenares explained that allowing this proposal would mean the President could realign funds as early as February.
"Kapapasa ng budget December, pwede na stop February at realign for justifiable reason. Nakalagay dito pwede nang savings ang non commencement. Hindi ba na-grant mas malaking poder sa President to redefine budget?"
The lawmaker pointed that under the new definition of savings, there will in effect be two national budgets. The first budget will be from January to June approved by Congress and the second will be from July to year-end and approved by the President.
"This violates constitutional provision on power of purse of congress. This redefinition will take away this power from us..."
PRESIDENT CEDING AUTHORITY
Abad, however, explained that the President isn't as powerful as thought to be under this budget.
"Remember, you authorized budget for one year. How are we going to do that average procurement period for infrastructure is 6 months to a year?If you study (the) reforms, the President is ceding a lot of powers requiring agencies to disaggregate budget," he said.
He also explained the budget gives the power of oversight of Congress more sense as now there is greater transparency.
"No intent of executive to monopolize power. The President is ceding a lot of power," he said.
"If were able to execute the budget faster and as close as possible to what Congress approved, the need for generating savings becomes less because we were able to implement as approved. I don't expect savings to be more than 2 percent. Congress is always there to exercise oversight," he said.
"More than amass more discretionary power, the President is ceding authority."
Colmenares noted there are still lump sums in the budget totaling about P501 billion. He said the lump sums leave much to be desired.
Abad said President Aquino is against lump sums. He explained that remaining lump sums are for expenses that cannot be predicted like calamity or contingency funds.
Under the disbursement acceleration program, the President was able to generate savings midyear, from 2011 to 2013, and realigned the money to projects not necessarily included in those years' budgets.
Colmenares said the government has projected unused appropriations of P251 billion in the 2014 budget and actual unused appropriations of P203 billion in the 2013 budget.
Abad clarified that unused appropriations may be declared as savings.
"Savings means the original appropriations approved by Congress were not utilized for various reasons. I think [General Appropriations Act] enumerates three instances where you can generate [savings]. If those appropriations are either due to unfilled items or vacancies not filled up they become unused appropriations and can be declared as savings or if there are efficiency measures you also generate unused appropriations which can be declared savings," he said.
The budget chief said that for 2013, unused appropriations took up only 1.3% of the total budget.
Colmenares also wondered why there is a deficit of P283 billion when there are projected savings. He also questioned the need to contract over P700 billion in loans.
"Yun di maintindihan ng taumbayan. Kung ang savings ganun kalaki, bakit may P283 billion deficit..."
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, however, explained that the country has maturing obligations.
"We need to refinance. P700 billion includes deficit plus refinancing of maturing obligations."
Abad explained: "We cannot yet determine whether we have savings in 2015. The intention of government is to utilize the full appropriated budget for 2015. It is premature to speak about savings at this point when we have not entered period of budget execution."
Purisima revealed that by 2015, total debt projected is P6.596 trillion.