MANILA - Members of the Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives asked the Commission on Audit (COA) and Office of the Ombudsman to investigate whether or not the supposed savings in the national budget are being used as 'pork barrel' by President Rodrigo Duterte and the executive branch.
Pork barrel has been defined by the Supreme Court as lump sums under the discretion of a single authority.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate noted that National Budget Circular 586 mandated the collection of expected savings from different government agencies.
"This NBC 586 covers released allotments under the fiscal year 2020 General Appropriations Act which remain unobligated until May 15, 2021, but not expressly earmarked for the implementation of programs, activities, and projects addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and can be realigned by the president as he sees fit," he said.
"This is a Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)-like savings and a form of presidential pork," he said.
Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares, a former House member, said these savings may be realigned to projects of Duterte's candidates for the upcoming elections.
These so-called savings could easily be realigned to 'augment' projects at Duterte's discretion, he said.
"Presidential pork barrel is a lump sum amount, in which the discretion to select the project, amount and its beneficiaries rests on the President and the executive branch. This phenomena of unused budget has become a pattern under Pres. Duterte who, unlike other presidents, suspiciously refuses to divulge the overall savings of the government in the GAA every year," Colmenares said.
Colmenares urged COA to ignore Duterte's statement telling them to stop flagging government agencies over alleged deficiencies in spending public funds.
"COA should continue its work and just ignore President Duterte because it is their constitutional mandate. President Duterte has no jurisdiction over them," he said.
ACT Teachers Party-list Representative France Castro urged the government to stop going after COA.
"The Duterte administration has been making all kinds of excuses following the release of COA reports which flagged almost all corners of the Duterte administration. The COA is a constitutional body tasked as the supreme auditor of taxpayers' money. They cannot and should not simply stop auditing government agencies just because the president doesn't like it or a department secretary feels wrecked by the observations and findings of COA," Castro said.
- report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News