Congress approves 2015 budget

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 15 2014 06:55 PM | Updated as of Dec 16 2014 03:09 AM

MANILA - Congress has approved the proposed P2.6 trillion national budget for 2015 - the year when politicians start preparing for the 2016 presidential elections.

In separate sessions Monday, the Senate and House of Representatives ratified the report of the Bicameral Conference Committee tasked to harmonize the 2 chambers' separate versions of the budget.

Of the amount, close to half a trillion pesos are lump sums in the special purpose (P368 billion) and unprogrammed funds (P123 billion).

With over P1.7 trillion being programmed new appropriations, total new appropriations stand at over P1.8 trillion.

Education got the highest share of the budget, while the lowest share went to the Office of the Vice-President.

Among the highlights of the bicameral report approved by both houses are the use of savings, which in the past allowed the administration to pursue a Disbursement Acceleration Program later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The bicameral provision on savings now reads this way: "Sec. 68. Meaning of savings. Savings refer to portions or balances of any released appropriations in this act which have not been obligated as a result of any of the following:

(a) Final discontinuance or abandonment of an on-going program, activity or project (P/A/P) by the head of the agency concerned due to causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of the said agency which would not render it possible for the agency to implement the said P/A/P during the validity of the appropriations;

(b) Non-commencement of the P/A/P for which the appropriations is released. For this purpose, non-commencement shall refer to the inability of the agency or its duly authorized procurement agent to obligate the released allotment and implement the P/A/P due to natural or man-made calamities or other causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of the agency concerned during the validity of the appropriations;

(c) Decreased cost resulting from improved efficiency during the implementation or until the completion by agencies of their P/A/Ps: provided, that the agencies will still be able to deliver the targets and services as approved in this act; and

(d) Difference between the approved budget for the contract and the contract award price.

The bicam also said savings may likewise refer to available balances of appropriations arising from unused compensation and related costs pertaining to: (i) unfilled, vacant or abolished positions; (ii) non-entitlement to allowance and benefits; (iii) leaves of absence without pay; and (iv) unutilized pension and retirement benefits arising from death of pensioners, decrease in the number of retirees, or other related causes.

However, the bicam made explicit that programmed appropriations that have not been released or allotments not obligated due to the fault of the agency concerned shall not be considered savings.

The budget has over P1.37 trillion in new appropriations. Of these, some P7.8 billion were total realignments.

The final budgets are ranked as follows:

DEPED P321.05B
DPWH P290.47B
DSWD P108.077B
DILG P104.566B
DND P99.92B

DOH P87.59B
DOTC P52.87B
DA P48.69B
SUCs P42.27B
ARMM P24.29B

DENR P21.017B
Judiciary P20.26B
DOST P17.57B
Comelec P16.81B
DOF P13.86B

DFA P12.95B
Congress P12.65B
DOLE P11.55B
DOJ P11.325B
Other executive agencies P10.58B

DAR P10.26B
COA P7.75B
DTI P3.73B
DOE P3.46B

Office of the President: P2.5B
DOT P2.47B
Ombudsman P1.8B
DBM P1.418B

CSC P1.11B
OVP P222.63M

Special purpose funds: P368.72B

- Budgetary support to government-owned and -controlled corporations P62.48B
- Allocation to local government units P33.47B
- Contingent fund P2B
- E-government fund P1B
- International commitments fund P10.72B
- Miscellaneous personnel benefits fund P117.38B
- Calamity fund /national disaster risk reduction and management fund P14B
- Pension and gratuity fund P126.66B

Unprogrammed funds 123.05B

Last week, former national treasurer Leonor Briones slammed the bicameral version of the budget.

“Since the appropriations are valid from day one of next year until it ends, the intention to declare savings any time of the year is still present.

“The declaration of savings on a non-definite time-frame provided the mechanism for the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the redefinition effectively eliminates the Congress’ vaunted 'Power of the Purse,'” Briones said in a statement.

This leeway would give DAP "legitimacy," despite the Supreme Court ruling on its unconstitutionality, she said.

She added that this touches issues on the balance of power between the Executive and the Legislative, since portions of the DAP were essentially pork-barrel for legislators and are not much different from the likewise SC-declared unconstitutional Priority Development Acceleration Fund (PDAF).

Thus, the 2015 budget cannot reasonably be said to be "pork-less" or "DAP-less," according to Briones.

“There are also no clear restrictions as to when the Executive may be allowed to withdraw unobligated allotments from the agencies. The qualifier 'causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of agency' (Sec 68.a) is likewise vague. It is similar with the original provision in the GAB allowing savings for "justifiable causes,'" she said.

Briones also said the bicam also did not touch the Department of Budget and Management’s “errata,” erroneously considered as budget “amendments” and were hence restored in the bicam-approved 2015 budget bill.

“The lack of balance of powers among the three branches of government and the political machinations in the 2015 are salient issues for the Filipino people as it affects how the nation proceeds into governance as a functional democracy. Social Watch Philippines therefore challenges citizens to express dissent over the pork and DAP-laden 2015 budget, and hold the Executive and Legislative accountable for not acting in accordance with the people’s interests,” she said.

The 2015 budget bill will now go to President Aquino for his signature.