SC ruling allowed lawmakers’ projects

MANILA  - The Supreme Court ruling striking down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional does not bar lawmakers from including their projects in the national budget, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said on Friday.

He said the ruling in fact allows senators and congressmen to include their projects in the budget provided they do it before the outlay is enacted into law and they make no post-budget enactment intervention.

“There are a lot of projects of lawmakers that are there (in the budget), but they are listed. The word is listed. What the SC prohibited in its decision on the PDAF is the inclusion of a lump sum without any indication what it is going to be used for,” he said.

“And the SC itself declared that there is absolutely nothing wrong to fund congressional projects provided they are itemized in the budget. As you can see, from our former two-volume budget, we now have six volumes. It’s full of itemization,” he said.

Belmonte urged those claiming that there is “pork” in the proposed P2.606-trillion 2015 national spending measure to read all six volumes of it to find out that it does not contain funds the SC has prohibited. Sen. Miriam Santiago earlier said there is P37.5 billion hidden pork in the budget.

At the Senate, appropriations committee chairman Sen. Francis Escudero allayed fears that the lump sum items in next year’s budget are pork items in disguise.

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He said the Senate-approved budget is compliant with the SC decision on PDAF and on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

“There are really lump sum items in the budget but it is different from having pork,” he said.

“These items are really necessary to give the government the necessary flexibility. But these lump sums were made temporary only. Why temporary? Because we require them, just very much like what we did in 2014, to submit special budget in accordance with the Revised Administrative Code,” he maintained.

He said what the SC declared as unconstitutional was not the lump sum but the post-intervention of legislators, a problem the Senate has addressed.

He pointed out Section 63 of the General Appropriations Act (GAA) mandates that lump sum appropriations shall be released upon compliance with requirements under special provisions. It should include the complete details of the programs, activities and projects covering the lump sum appropriations.

“In accordance with the DAP decision of the High Court, there should be certification from the National Treasury that there is excess fund and it’s in the Treasury,” the senator said.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will convene for the bicameral conference on Tuesday next week to reconcile their budget versions.

He also said enough safeguards are in place to ensure that lump sum items are properly used.

Reacting to Santiago’s allegation, Belmonte said, “That’s her opinion. There is no pork in the budget.”

Santiago said the P37.3 billion includes more than P18 billion lodged with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

She apparently based her claim on a briefing she received from budget watchdog Social Watch, which announced that it had presented its analysis on the 2015 outlay to senators on Nov. 17 “in partnership” with Santiago’s office.

Social Watch, headed by former national treasurer Leonor Briones, claims there is a total of P56.3 billion in “PDAF-like” funds in next year’s budget.

Lump sums aplenty

Yesterday, Briones said the proposed P23-billion supplemental budget for this year “is filled with lump sums.”

“There is a need to flesh out the big-ticket items under this new budget. There is P16.4 billion for ‘New Urgent Projects/Programs’ mostly for Yolanda reconstruction and the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit, P5.08 billion for projects previously approved but have not been implemented and P1.8 billion for obligations arising from infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways,” she said.

She also called the proposed additional budget “vague, undetailed and therefore vulnerable.”

“The Senate has just approved the 2015 budget yet, it is interesting to note, it is already near the end of the year and a supplemental budget for 2014 is still being proposed by DBM,” she added. “Can it use up the supplemental budget in one month?”

Included in the additional outlay, she said, are allocations for the rehabilitation of the LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines 1 and 2 and construction of permanent housing for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

However, she noted that the corresponding amounts are not reported in the supplemental budget.

“There is also an impression that P14 billion of the P23.4-billion supplemental budget may refer to Priority Development Assistance Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program projects which were not yet implemented or were partially implemented due to the previous Supreme court decisions, where PDAF and DAP were declared unconstitutional,” she said.

“The rationale for this contention lies with the vague description that allocations were made ‘for projects previously approved but have not been implemented or have been partially implemented’,” she said.

She said of the P16.4 billion for “new urgent programs and projects/priority initiatives,” P9.5 billion is for Yolanda, P1.44 billion for the APEC summit next year, while the remaining P5.46 billion “has no clear items.”

“These are basically lump sums and there is no clear standard for what is classified and certified as urgent coming from DBM. The government should disclose how urgent these programs and projects are,” she added.

Briones also said the Senate has kept the redefinition of savings, despite claims to the contrary.

She said Malacañang could still declare savings at any time of the year.

“Such redefinition can perpetuate the pork barrel system and mechanisms similar to the Disbursement Acceleration Program, both of which have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” she said.

Palace firm

Malacañang, meanwhile, defended the Department of Budget and Management’s request for a P23-billion supplemental budget from Congress, even if there are already allocations for Yolanda rehabilitation in this year’s national budget and in the next.

“We have always been conscientious with the way that the government spends the public money and this is all borne out of extensive consultations with the agencies,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told newsmen.

“And, yes, in our view, because we submitted it, we will stand by and we will be able to defend to the detail the numbers that are being asked of us by Congress,” she explained.

Valte also defended the additional budget for the Yolanda rehabilitation.

“Well, of course, some of the rehabilitation by itself, as Secretary (Panfilo) Lacson would tell you, cannot be done overnight. There are measures that we can implement: livelihood, cash-for-work, et cetera,” she said.

“And those sorts of things that you can see immediately the effect but some would require a longer period of time. As you can see, we’re shifting from the temporary shelters to the bunkhouses, and then eventually the permanent housing,” Valte stressed.

“I am quite certain that in the budget deliberations for the supplemental budget that was submitted, the facts can be fleshed out,” she told a news briefing.

Leaders of the House of Representatives have asked Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to trim the proposed supplemental budget.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said they were concerned that the proposal includes funding for “new projects,” which he added should have been included in the 2015 outlay.

“This is supposed to be an additional budget for this year, which is about to end. We are of the view that it should not include funds for new projects,” he said.

On Thursday, senators ignored Santiago’s assertions and approved the budget on third and final reading without removing P37.3 billion in alleged “pork.”