SC urged to nullify lump sum funds in 2014 budget

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

MANILA -- A former Manila councilor who convinced the Supreme Court (SC) to declare the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional last November urged the tribunal to do the same with lump sum items in the national budget this year.

In an 18-page petition, Greco Belgica said Malacañang and Congress ignored the SC decision on the PDAF, a lump sum appropriation which became notorious for being an alleged source of corruption of some lawmakers.

“Instead of identifying the specific purpose for each specific appropriation, the 2014 GAA (General Appropriations Act) tacitly condoned the continued existence of lump sum appropriations and simply passed on the responsibility of spelling out details of the appropriation to the agency concerned,” he said on Monday.

For 2014, the petition stated that P143.79 billion out of the P2.265-trillion budget was not itemized, thus the SC should issue a temporary restraining (TRO) or status quo order (SQAO) to stop government from disbursing the funds.

These are the Unprogrammed Fund (P139,903,759,000), E-Government Fund (P2,478,900,000), Contingent Fund (1,000,000,000) and Local Government Support Fund (P405,000,000).

According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Unprogrammed Fund comes from additional revenues that may be realized during the year in excess of original revenue targets while the E-Government Fund is intended for
“strategic information and communication technology projects.”

The Contingent Fund must be used only for “urgent projects and activities” that need to be implemented during the year. Absent any specificity of purpose, Belgica said a lot of projects and activities can be financed by this fund “depending on the whims and caprices of the President.”

Lastly, the LGSF was formed as financial assistance to local government units. The provision, however, is silent as to the form, percentage and type of financial assistance to be given to LGUs.

Belgica warned that the LGSF can be an instrument of political patronage.

“Which LGUs shall be blessed with this financial assistance is not made explicit. Thus, a biased Chief Executive can pour the funds to chosen or loyal LGUs,” the petition read, which named Executive
Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. as respondents.

The former councilor also cited the concurring opinion of Associate Justice Arturo Brion on the PDAF case, where the magistrate denounced the practice of approving lump sum appropriations without “meaningful congressional scrutiny.”

Brion said the SC must intervene “as the budgetary partners (Malacañang and Congress) will allow matters to remain as they are unless externally restrained by legally binding actions.” (Sunnex)

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