MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino administration has used up the entire multibillion-peso Malampaya fund, the national treasurer said Monday, contrary to previous reports that P130 billion of the fund was still intact.
This developed as President Aquino said he would not give up discretion over the fund.
“There is no more cash,” National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon told the Development Budget Coordinating Committee meeting where Sen. Sergio Osmeña III sought clarification on how the government had spent the P180-billion fund.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Congress’ oversight powers should cover the so-called “off-bud-get” funds, including the Malampaya fund and other presidential pork barrel allocations, which she described as “unconstitutional and evil.”
Santiago’s proposal was contained in a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that off-budget funds included in the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF) be submitted annually by the President to Congress.
Santiago, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, said off-budget or presidential pork barrel funds include amounts drawn from Malampaya, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).
Santiago said such funds violate a constitutional provision which states that “no money shall be paid out of the treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
In a statement, Santiago said that these off-budget funds were created during martial law and excluded from the national treasury.
“At present, these off-budget funds are under the complete control of the President, without an appropriation made by Congress,” she said.
Although it is the President who begins the budget process by submitting annually to Congress his BESF Report and the National Expenditure Program (NEP), Santiago said it is Congress that possesses the sole power to appropriate the revenues earned by government.
Santiago stressed that although the BESF Report is supposed to contain all the sources of government revenues, in reality the BESF report does not include off-budget sources of revenues, such as Malampaya Fund, the PCSO Charity Fund, and the PAGCOR Social Fund.
“These three major sources of national revenues are used, distributed, and disbursed, outside the budget process,” she said.
Under the off-budget process, it is non-elected public officials, principally the budget secretary, who decide – on instructions from the President – how these public funds should be spent, she said.
Santiago pointed out that while Presidential Decree No. 910 provides that the Malampaya fund is intended for energy development projects, the amount can also be spent “for such other purposes as the President may deem necessary.”
“This allows the President to use the Malampaya fund to finance projects not related to energy, by merely issuing an executive order without consulting Congress,” she said.
At Malacañang, President Aquino appears bent on keeping Malampaya funds under his discretion despite calls – including from a group of generals – that they be transferred to the national treasury.
“OK, we abolish it and bring it to the national treasury. And we go to Congress for anything and everything that we need and the process in going through Congress is not exactly an overnight affair,” Aquino explained.
He said he would only give up the funds if it would be proved that these had been misused.
“In effect, we will only be slowing the process (of spending for emergencies). And how will it benefit society? Those who have been suffering due to calamities will only suffer even more if this will be done,” Aquino pointed out. “As I see it, if we have committed any misuse, then perhaps that (abolition, transfer) can be justified. But as of now, nobody has ever said anything of misuse with regards to the PSF fund or the Malampaya fund.”
Sen. Ralph Recto said the problems unraveling regarding the use of the Malampaya funds highlighted the need to have PD 910 amended.
“What is important is that there is an admission that we need to amend the presidential decree, moving forward. It’s hard to account for the funds, which is why there is always a big problem,” Recto said.
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon is calling on President Aquino to realign the unused Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of the Senate for 2013 to the calamity fund to speed up the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the areas ravaged by the earthquake, recent typhoons, and even by violence perpetrated by Muslim rebels.
“There can be savings from the PDAF because of two reasons: number one, the senators have waived their 2013 allocations for PDAF, at least a number of them have manifested, and second, the Supreme Court has issued a TRO on the releases of the PDAF,” Drilon said in his Resolution 302.
Drilon said he had received a letter from local officials of Bohol requesting that the impounded PDAF of the senators be made an immediate source of rehabilitation funds for their province, hit by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake last week. – With Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy