MANILA - For Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, the current wording of the contingent fund in the yearly annual national budget is the problem that needs to be solved.
This, amid the raging controversy over its use to fund the P125 million 2022 confidential fund of the Office of the Vice President that was allegedly done without congressional authorization.
During his interpellation at the start of the plenary deliberations of the House of Representatives on the 2024 General Appropriations Act, Lagman pointed out the need to fix this provision as he claimed that it had been "abused."
The contingent fund is now at the center of the controversy because its P7 billion allotment in 2022 was used by the Office of the President to fund the Office of the Vice President's 2022 P125 million confidential fund, which critics claim was not expressly authorized by Congress.
Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, House Appropriations Committee Senior Vice Chair explained during the start of the budget deliberations at the plenary of the House that the fund has practically no limitations because it was conceptualized to be a standby fund for expenses that could not be anticipated at the time of budget preparation.
"It is to any, any item, any item, it is for any item as long as it is for a new or urgent activity or project of national government agencies, GOCCs, and LGU's that need to be implemented or paid during the year," Quimbo said.
Lagman pointed out that the provision cited instances where the contingent fund can be used, but Quimbo said those are merely illustrative and not limiting.
"The General Appropriations Act has special provision on the utilization of contingent fund. It provides among others that the Contingent Fund shall be utilized for obligations of the government arising from final and executory decisions of competent authorities such as compromise agreement arbitral awards, mediation settlement agreement and professional services in connection therewith. 2 request of newly created office or entry deficiencies in the appropriations for local and external travel of the Office of the President," Lagman said.
"To my mind, any other utilization should be allied to the 3 specific expenditures to be funded by the contingent fund. In order that there will be no circumstances wherein the contingency fund is released to agencies which are not involved in the 3 specific instances then we must be able to constrict in the 2024 provision the utilization of the contingent fund," Lagman said.
"My understanding is that it is very clear that the use of the contingent fund is that it is so long as it is for a new or urgent activity or project of NGA's GOCCs and LGU's that need to be implemented to be paid during the year such as BUT NOT limited to the following 1. legal obligation of the government arising from final and executory decisions of competent authorities such as compromise agreement arbitral awards, mediation settlement agreement and professional services in connection therewith. 2 requirements of newly created office or 3 entry deficiencies in the appropriations for local and external travel of the Office of the President," Quimbo said.
"There are 3 illustrative cases but it is very clear that it is not limited to these 3 cases. so there is a broad application of this contingent fund and precisely the purpose it is to be used for a contingency," Quimbo said.
Quimbo cited the Supreme Court's ruling outlawing the Priority Development Assistance Funds in the Aquino qdministration, which she said upheld the legality of the contingent fund, particularly that Congress specifically created it for for expenses that Congress could not anticipate when it writes the budget.
"It is very clear in Belgica vs Ochoa that that is the purpose for the fund and the case uphold the constitutionality of the fund. It is very clear that the Supreme Court recognizes that it is really impossible for Congress to anticipate 2 years in advance all the needs of government and so therefore allows the exercise of such a fund and allows this kind of a mechanism and so long as there is a specific appropriation and that there is a special provision that specifies how such appropriation is to be used which I just read earlier, then there is a valid delegation of Congress to the executive," she added.
Critics had insisted that the grant of the funds violates the SC's ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program but the Department of Budget and Management already said this does not apply in this case because it referred to the use of savings, which the contingent fund is not.
Lagman conceded the need for flexibility, so he instead bats for rewriting the provision.
"While it is true that Congress cannot anticipate certain circumstances, which would need funding, that is why we have created the contingent fund but this has been abused. You would recall that during the time of Pres. Duterte the contingent fund was used for the construction of a resort," Lagman said.
"Again we have not the controversy of the contingent fund being used to answer the request of the Vice President for additional funds in her office to the tune of about P125 million," Lagman added.
"In order to foreclose this proliferation on the utilization of the contingent fund I am proposing that it is opportune for us not to delimit strictly the utilization of this contingent funds," Lagman explained.