Stop bowing to presidents in crafting budgets, Lagman urges House
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives should stop deferring the role of crafting the budget to the president and the executive branch, Albay 2nd District Rep. Edcel Lagman said on Tuesday.
During the plenary debates on the 2023 National Expenditures Program (NEP), Lagman warned that Congress’ constitutional authority to adjust budgets is eroding because lawmakers tend to follow the executive branch’s and the president’s lead.
He urged Congress to keep a tighter grip on government spending in the future.
Lagman was the first to interpellate on general principles and provisions during the debate.
The lawmaker from Albay then asked budget sponsor and Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo if she agrees that Congress defers to the president, to which the latter said that there is such a trend.
But she emphasized that the presidents have certain limitations in drafting the budget.
Annexing the power of the purse
“During the past three administrations, the trend was the president tried and succeeded to a great extent in annexing the power of the purse to the power to disburse — as if the President’s National Expenditure Program is cast in stone. Is the distinguished sponsor cognizant of this trend?” Lagman asked.
“Congress wields the scalpel to exercise, propagate, and errant allocations in the NEP, but this verity is vanishing because members of Congress defer to the president. Is this correct, or is the trend?” he added.
“It may be a trend,” Quimbo, vice chairperson of the House committee on appropriations, said in reply.
Formulation of spending plan
Under the current structure, agencies propose their own budget for the next fiscal year to the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC), which includes the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), which the DBCC and the president then scrutinize.
The president then submits the scrutinized version through the DBCC to the House of Representatives within 30 days after Congress first opens its session or after he or she delivers his State of the Nation Address.
The House then holds budget hearings and debates in committee and full House sessions. However, Lagman’s argument is that Congresses have historically accepted the president’s budget proposals with little to no tweaking.
Snatching Congres power
Lagman continued by claiming that the three most recent administrations (those of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, and Rodrigo Duterte) have usurped the role of Congress in developing proposed budgets.
“The President’s seizure of the power of the purse began officially under DBM Circular 01-2009 dated January 20, 2009 under the Arroyo presidency, which was reiterated by DBM Circular 2010-9, dated October 30, 2010 and DBM Circular No. 09-2015 dated August 18, 2015 during the Aquino III presidency,” he said.
“Congress must regain its supremacy in the appropriation of public funds. It must stop the hemorrhaging of the legislative power of the purse which has been mercilessly bludgeoned by Malacañang with the complicity and tolerance of legislative leaders and both chambers’ majority coalitions,” he added.
President constrained in some ways
Lagman then asked Quimbo if she thinks Congress must assert its dominance in crafting the General Appropriations Act (GAA). Quimbo said she generally agrees with the veteran lawmaker but noted that there are principles that the legislation follows in delegating appropriate functions to the president.
“Let us also be reminded of the principles, the basic principles in the delegation of power by the legislative to the executive. There are two tests I believe — one is the completeness test and the other is the sufficiency of standards test. I think those are the two most important things. If we talk about the completeness, the policy should be stated, what powers are delegated, and it is clear that the budget execution is delegated,” she said.
“In terms of the sufficiency of standards test, it should be clear that there are limits or boundaries in delegating powers. And this is the reason why the executive has introduced certain mechanisms to make sure that the sufficiency of standards test is met. So for example on the allegation of impounding, the executive has made it clear that they don’t necessarily, they don’t impound. All they need is a level of detail in terms of supporting documents,” she added.
Lagman noted that Congress has never delegated its powers to the president.
“We understand, Mr. Speaker, distinguished sponsor, the parameters of these standards on delegation. But I would like to remind the membership of the House that we have never delegated to the president our constitutional power of the purse, and we have never allowed and will never allow the president to impound Congressional initiatives,” he ended.
The House earlier started plenary debates on the General Appropriations Bill, keeping with its schedule and aiming to pass the budget before Congress takes a recess in October.
Committee on appropriations chairperson and Ako Bicol Rep. Elizaldy Co sponsored the bill, saying that the proposed budget is geared towards economic transformation and recovery amid rising inflation and the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House appropriation committee finished the per-agency hearing following their self-imposed deadline last Friday. Under the schedule, the earliest the House may approve the proposed budget is on September 28, and the latest would be on September 30.
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