House to Diokno: Explain budget insertions
The House of Representatives has directed Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to appear at its plenary session on Tuesday to shed light on P975 billion in unspent public funds during the first two years of the Duterte administration.
House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. on Sunday said Diokno also had been summoned to a “Question Hour” to explain the supposed “insertions” of some P52 billion for certain legislative districts, which lawmakers had blamed for the delay in the approval of the proposed P3.8-trillion national budget for 2019.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson surmised that these funds were later allocated to certain House members, among them Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who received P2.4 billion worth of projects, and Andaya, P1.9 billion, for their respective districts.
Lacson said the P4.3-billion fund allotted to the legislative districts of Arroyo and Andaya was pork.
“Some of the things (Lacson) said were correct. It’s better if we are given an opportunity to explain,” Andaya said.
He said the 292-member chamber invited Diokno after adopting House Resolution No. 2307, filed on Nov. 11 by Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, who flagged the supposed billions of pesos impounded by the government since 2016.
Suarez said the decision to summon the budget secretary to the plenary session was part of the chamber’s oversight powers to hold members of the executive branch to account for their actions.
The House minority leader said Section 22 Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and Rule XVII Section 124 of the House Rules guaranteed that lawmakers “may request heads of departments to appear and be heard by [the] House on any matter pertaining to their departments, invoking its power to conduct question hour.”
Coop-Natcco Rep. Anthony Bravo earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiscal performance was worse than his predecessor as government underspending hit nearly P388.4 billion last year.
In 2016, the proadministration lawmaker placed fund underutilization at P596.7 billion, the worst in the country’s fiscal history.
Interestingly, the President and his economic managers have ridiculed the previous Aquino administration for its failure to fully use the annual budget as they vowed to speed up public spending through the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program.
Bravo likened the withholding of state funds to the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which realigned savings of agencies for use by the national government to pump prime the economy. But the DAP was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014.
“Underspending during the entire six years of the Aquino administration would be [eclipsed] in the first three years alone of the current administration,” Bravo told reporters.
“This could be worse than DAP,” he said. “In the past administration, they declared savings from the unused funds. Now, they don’t even declare if they have savings.”
Since 2015, Bravo said the national government had kept some P1.3 trillion from being used for state-funded projects.
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