Congress calls for stronger public accountability

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Monday, July 28, 2014

MANILA -- The House of Representatives and the Senate opened the second regular session of the 16th Congress on Monday with their leaders moving for measures that will strengthen public accountability.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte directed the Committee on Rules to study the creation of a standing committee that would conduct legislative oversight over the use of public funds by all government agencies and functionaries.

Belmonte, in a speech during the opening session of the House of Representatives, said the committee will be called the Public Accounts and Audit Committee.

The committee would have jurisdiction to call and hold to account all National Government agencies, local government units, government-owned and controlled corporations, and other government instrumentalities for their use of public funds, and to undertake legislative action to improve transparency of government operations.

The House Speaker said that after reviewing a number of Commission on Audit reports, he noted that there are a large number of audit recommendations that are not implemented, or are only partially implemented.

“These indicate possible misuse of public funds and inefficient public spending,” he said.

“This should concern us, as representatives of the people, since we gave government the authority to collect tax money from them whom we swore to serve,” Belmonte said.

He likewise called for the establishment of a framework for the conduct of continuing or year-round legislative oversight over the use of public funds by all government agencies.

In the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon promised to work hard not only on the priority measures but to revive the people’s faith amid avalanche of criticisms that severely damaged the image of the Philippine Senate.

“The eyes of the people are upon us again as we open the second regular session of the 16th Congress. I view this day as our opportunity to recover the people’s faith in their Senate, regain their trust and revive their confidence,” Drilon said in a speech during the opening of the second Regular Session.

Drilon, however, admitted the task would be difficult, saying the barrage of criticism against the Senate may have succeeded in reducing the worth and the weight of the Senate in the minds and lives of the people.

“Though not within reach, I believe with hard work and perseverance, we would in time walk past the difficult path ahead,” he said.

“I recognize that as public servants, we must remain receptive and tolerant of criticism. But should we as individuals and as a collegial body allow the Senate to continue to be casually scorned?” asked Drilon.

He thus called on his colleagues to defend the institution and set aside 2016 elections, and focus on winning back the people’s trust and confidence in the very institution they serve.

“We owe it to this chamber to combat falsehoods concocted by cowardly minds who spread their lies through proxy voices and pens; to speak up for the Senate even when it may seem to be more politically convenient and safer for us to be silent, to just wait for the tempest to pass,” the Senate leader said.

Drilon said the Senate would prioritize legislation that would stimulate the economy and generate more jobs, promote fair competition in business, increase the take home pay of our workers, strengthen our campaign against graft and corruption and criminality, expand access to health and education, and protect our country’s territorial sovereignty.

He also assured that the Senate would not waive its constitutional mandate over the 2015 national budget.

Also, the Senate, Drilon added, is committed to work on the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. (John Carlo Cahinhinan/With PNA/Sunnex)

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