Drilon wary of terms set by Duterte in veto message
All new projects identified by lawmakers in the 2021 budget are now subject to extra conditions laid out by President Duterte, including the need for his own prior approval, and these could be used by Malacañang as leverage for political favors for the next general elections, a Senate leader warned on Wednesday.
“The 2021 [budget] is considered an election year budget, hence we must be vigilant. The budget should be a tool to create a meaningful and lasting change, not in aid of 2022 elections,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a statement to the Inquirer.
In his Dec. 28 partial veto message on the newly signed P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2021, the President subjected all “new items introduced by Congress” to a number of requirements before fund disbursement.
The new budgetary guideline, according to Drilon, was a “confirmation” of the “for later release (FLR)” practice that had been challenged by the Senate and the House of Representatives in previous years.
Drilon acknowledged that the executive branch wielded the power to withhold fund releases, except for constitutional bodies with fiscal autonomy, but he said “such power must be used only for prudent and responsible fiscal management, and not arbitrarily or for political purposes, especially during the campaign season for the 2022 election.”
The Senate and the House of Representatives had tried to prevent the FLR practice by setting parameters in the 2021 GAA that in effect blocked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) from unilaterally “impounding,” or refusing to spend funds appropriated by Congress for a particular purpose.
In 2020, the DBM declared around P271 billion as FLR funds, of which only about half could be released within the year. This angered lawmakers who had accused the DBM of circumventing Congress’ exclusive power of the purse.
But in his veto message, Mr. Duterte appeared to endorse the FLR practice by inserting the provision authorizing the DBM to compel government agencies to submit supporting documents before any new Congress-identified project could be funded, Drilon said.
The opposition senator noted that such appropriations, which were not part of the executive’s original budget proposal to Congress, had “corresponding effects [on] the respective outputs and outcomes of the agencies concerned.”
In his veto message, Mr. Duterte said the new budgetary items “shall be subject to the national government’s cash programming, the observance of prudent and responsible fiscal management, applicable rules and procedures during budget execution, and approval by the President based on programmed priorities of the government.”
“The DBM shall inform the agencies of such new budgetary items and require the submission of the revised agency performance targets, among other supporting documents as may be applicable,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a critic of the FLR practice, had denounced the DBM for not making a distinction between the senators’ “institutional amendments” increasing or decreasing an agency’s budget and the House members’ amendments benefiting themselves or their districts.
The President’s message said that what he had vetoed were “riders” and “inappropriate” items that were against the Constitution and jurisprudence.
As a general rule, the income of all agencies must revert to the general fund of the national government unless otherwise authorized by a separate law, he said.
To allow agencies to use their own income would not only reduce the sourcing of financing of the 2021 budget but also increase their budgets beyond the approved expenditure levels, Mr. Duterte said.
The “inappropriate” provisions he vetoed included one that required his office to submit quarterly reports on how intelligence funds were used.
“Intelligence funds cover programs, projects and activities related to national security.
In this regard, matters relating to national security are deemed confidential or classified information, which is one of the recognized exceptions to the right to information,” he explained.
The DBM defended the presidential vetoes, saying they would facilitate “efficient use of public funds.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the DBM said the provisions in the GAA that the President directly vetoed covered those that “do not relate to particular appropriations, which would effectively amend the Constitution, or any existing laws,” hence unlawful.
Allowing agencies to use their incomes without separate legal bases “will reduce the sources of financing for next year’s budget as well as increase the appropriations of agencies beyond the approved expenditure levels,” it said.
Mr. Duterte directly vetoed provisions on the use of savings by an agency or a department “without his approval since the Constitution limits such power to the President with respect to the executive department,” the DBM said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING AND BEN O. DE VERA
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