House defers DBM budget over undisclosed savings, 'batcave' project

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 23 2021 04:21 PM

MANILA— The House of Representatives has deferred consideration of the Department of Budget and Management's proposed 2022 budget after a lawmaker called out the agency for its lack of transparency on how much savings the government has.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate pointed out that Congress does not know how much savings the government has because the DBM has failed to disclose that publicly.

Zarate also flagged the use of some P10.33 billion in contingent funds for projects such as the development of a "batcave" in Davao del Sur, which he pointed out were not allowed to be paid for by contingent funds.

Zarate pointed out that the contingent funds can only be used to pay for legal obligations, requirements for new positions, and augmentation for presidential travels.

The lawmaker rejected the explanation of officials that it is so authorized to use government savings to augment funds in projects.

"Ito ay paglabag muli sa kapangyarihan ng kongreso, ng kaniyang power of the purse. Paglabag din ito sa (General Appropriations Act). Hindi katanggap tanggap ang inyong explanation na dahil ito savings at may certification and may I request that said certification be provided," Zarate said at a budget hearing.

(This is a violation of Congress' power of the purse. This is also a violation of the GAA. The explanation that these are savings is unacceptable and may I request that said certification be provided.)

Zarate said presidential discretion over P10.33 billion in contingent funds has turned it into a form of presidential pork barrel, where the president chooses recipient areas.

Last week, Zarate's fellow Makabayan bloc lawmaker, Ferdinand Gaite, also flagged the Department of Public Works and Highways for allegedly using contingent funds to build swmming pools and a "batcave."

Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, however, maintained that the President is well within his authority to realign funds.

"I think the language speaks very clearly that the president has the authority to declare and use savings since the president is the head of all the departments, the president can do that. The savings had been declared and determined by a department, transferred to the contingent funds which is valid, the definition of contingent funds."

Zarate then moved to defer the DBM’s budget, "Hindi po katanggap tanggap ang mga binigay na kasagutan ng DBM…because of that, with due respect, I move to defer the budget consideration of the DBM."

(The answers of the DBM are unacceptable... because of that, with due respect, I move to defer the budget consideration of the DBM.)

The House approved the motion. 

The House plans to approve the budget by next week.