Senators to push for clear transparent budget for 2015

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Monday, August 4, 2014

SENATORS urged the need to have a transparent and well-defined budget for 2015 at the same time a clear definition of the term savings in the light of the coming marathon budget hearings in both houses of Congress.

In an interview, Senator Francis Escudero who chairs the Senate committee on finance said he is willing to wait for any proposal that would define savings but even without the joint resolution, the chamber will deliberate on the national budget in accordance with the ruling of the Supreme Court on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Escudero said he will not sponsor any measure that would introduce any amendments or revisions redefining savings.

"Personally I do not have plans of filing a bill or any bill in relation to that. But any bill that may be referred to my committee, I promise to tackle it but I will make sure that it will not circumvent any law or invent a new name," Escudero said.

Escudero said he has received a copy of the proposed 2015 national budget and has not completed reading the voluminous document.

For her part, Senator Grace Poe asked her colleagues to solicit inputs from members of the opposition and former secretaries of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in seeking to define the term savings in the national budget.

Poe further said that a definition of savings expressed either in a joint resolution to be passed by both houses of Congress or in General Appropriations Act (GAA) will avoid confusion in its utilization.

Earlier, the high court declared as unconstitutional the withdrawal of unobligated funds and their declaration as savings; the funding of projects, activities and programs not covered by the GAA and the cross-border transfer of savings by the executive branch.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, for his part, expressed the need for a debate of whether or not Congress should redefine the term savings.

Instead of piecemeal amendments to budget laws, Congress should instead "codify" laws, rules including "best practices and reforms" on public sector budgeting, Angara said, in reaction to reports that Malacanang will push for a bill redefining budgetary savings and governing its use.

"The time has come to revisit all laws on public expenditures," Angara said, explaining that the two principal laws guiding budgeting were conceived "when desktop computers were still alien in the bureaucracy."

The senator, who is a lawyer by profession, was referring to the 37-year-old Presidential Decree 1177, issued by late Ferdinand Marcos in 1977, and Executive Order 292, or the Administrative Code of 1987, which came into force a year after Corazon Aquino assumed power.

"In fact, according to budget experts, whole sections of PD 1177 were attached to the Administrative Code. To a large degree, the portion on national government budgeting, which is Book VI, was copy-pasted from PD 1177," the lawmaker said.

Angara also noted that the two measures were "executive issuances."

"They were not products of the legislative branch, but by a presidency possessing lawmaking powers," he said.

"But that should not be the excuse for consolidating all laws pertaining to government budgeting under one code. The main reason should be the wealth of experience, reforms, initiatives, lessons of the Philippine budgeting system," Angara added.

"For example, in 1987 when the present Administrative Code took effect, the national budget was P121 billion. It has grown by 21-fold since. For next year, the proposed budget is P2.6 trillion," he said.

Another factor, which was not there when the two budget laws were drafted, is the revolution in information technology, Angara said.

"Wala pang e-budgeting and paperless transactions noon. Budget issuances then were sent through snail mail. 'Di tulad ngayon na hindi lang emailed, nasa Twitter pa. It won’t hurt if new technologies would be supported by a new legal infrastructure," the senator added.

Angara said that judicial decisions on budget aspects, such as the nullification of DAP and PDAF, might also require some corresponding adjustments in the law.

"There is also the need to future-proof the budget against an executive branch who will treat the treasury as its own personal piggy bank," the neophyte senator said.

"Ayos lang kung matino ang nakaupo. Pero paano sa darating na panahon kung merong gusto umabuso sa kaban ng bayan?" he said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said Congress in general, without going to specifics of six months, are in favor of clarifying what savings really mean.

"Huwag natin kalimutan na ang batas na aming ipinasa ay siyang nag de-define ng savings. Iyan po ang polisiya ng gobyerno sa pamamagitan ng isang batas. Ngayon, dahilan po sa hindi nagkaintindihan ang Ehekutibo at Korte Suprema tungkol sa depinisyon ng savings, ako po ay pabor na liwanagin ito sa pamamagitan ng isang batas." Drilon clarified.

A staunch Aquino ally, the Senate Chief is in favor of Congress redefining savings.

Meanwhile, Senator Ralph Recto said savings can actually be used to reduce budget deficit.

He said he will raise this in the deliberations for the 2015 budget.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano warned his fellow lawmakers against trying to skirt the Supreme Court ruling by coming up with their own definition of savings.

Cayetano said Congress must first clarify definition of savings based on the SC ruling.

The senator said that while he supports the President's request for a joint resolution defining savings, the measure must be very clear to avoid confusion and legal arguments in the future. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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