THE House of Representative’s constitutional power of the purse has weakened because of its limited participation in the preparation of the annual national budget, Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu of Batangas said on Wednesday night.
“The 1987 Constitution vests the ‘power of the purse’ on Congress. However, existing budget laws and budgeting practices have weakened Congress’ power to shape government’s spending priorities,” Abu lamented in a privilege speech.
Under the present budget process, the executive, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC), prepares the annual National Expenditure Program (NEP) and submits this to Congress for deliberations and approval.
Abu complained congressmen and their offices “are barely consulted in preparing the budgets of the regional and provincial offices of national government agencies.”
“It is sad that the budget preparation guidelines continue to marginalize our inputs in the preparation of the national budget, leading to the often-repeated complaints of inequitable distribution of the national budget,” he added.
Abu said that as district representatives, it is the responsibility of congressmen “to legitimately use the appropriations, lawmaking and legislative oversight powers of Congress to ensure that the well-being of our people is well-taken care of.”
Consistent with their constitutional mandate and of existing jurisprudence, he said “it is our legal and moral duty to actively protect, defend and promote the interests of the people through the inclusion in the GAB – be it in the form of ‘institutional or individual amendments’ – of local projects that are already vetted for relevance, quality and feasibility.”
Abu aired his sentiments in the wake Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s fresh allegations that the House-approved version of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2020 or the P4.1 trillion proposed national budget remains riddled with “pork” despite the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling banning the pork barrel system.
Lacson has slammed the House of tinkering with the appropriations measure after Albay Rep. Joey Salceda disclosed last month that each congressional district will receive P100 million in allocations next year.
Salceda, a senior vice chair of the appropriations committee, has earlier said all projects identified by congressmen, including party-list ones, which were included by the executive department in the NEP “were deemed necessary based on the complete work plans and feasibility studies that were submitted by district, provincial or regional authorities of the various department.”
Another House leader, Cavite Rep. Abrahama “Bambol” Tolentino, chairmam of the House committee on accounts, has divulged during the plenary deliberations on the GAB that the House will need an additional P1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020.
Smelling blood, Lacson accused the House again of wanting to insert an P1.5 billion in allocations for each of the 22 deputy speakers and P700 million for the rest of its members, an allegation which was strongly denied by the House leadership, saying the House will only have an additional P1.6 billion in allocation as proposed by the Executive in the NEP.
It turned out that the House only had a total of P9.5 billion in institutional amendments in the GAB, which Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano stressed was still almost identical to the NEP.
Of these institutional amendments, the biggest chunk of P3 billion went to the Department of Agriculture’s proposed budget for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice).
Abu said the representative nature of the House as an institution is the reason why appropriations bills originate exclusively from it.
He said that unlike the Senate, the members of which are elected nationally, House members are elected at the district level, “which makes us more ‘in touch’ with the development needs and aspirations of our people.”
“The fact that we in the House represent a smaller number of people than the Senate explains why the House is more effective in its role of representation. In turn, House members are concerned with more direct issues affecting their constituents, while the Senate tend to focused more on broader national issues,” Abu said.
Abu said this is why congressmen are part of the composition of the Local Development Councils (LDCs) at the municipal, city or provincial levels.
He said that through the LDCs, the district representative and his or her office “acquire locally-informed knowledge and expertise about the priority needs of the district.”
“With this capacity, we can determine how many poor families are in locality and where these poor are located. We can identify what resources for development are available within the district that can be used to help improve the lives of our constituents. The projects that we as district representatives advocate for inclusion in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) are substantially vetted for strategic value, costing and implementation readiness through the LDCs, face-to-face consultations, and local knowledge,” he said.