Lagman: House can modify NEP within budget limit
MANILA, Philippines — Claims that the House of Representatives erred in realigning confidential funds in the proposed 2024 budget are incorrect since Congress can modify the National Expenditures Program (NEP), Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said.
In a statement on Thursday, Lagman said that the House “can amend, modify, delete, realign, reduce, increase, and reallocate items of expenditure in the NEP” or the proposed budget as long as the ceiling — in this case, the P5.768 trillion set by the executive — is not breached.
“The National Expenditure Program (NEP), which is the basis of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), is not cast in stone,” the veteran lawmaker said.
“Consequently, the Congress, more specifically the House of Representatives where appropriation measures originate, can amend, modify, delete, realign, reduce, increase, and reallocate items of expenditure in the NEP as long as the ceiling of the total expenditure budget proposed by the President for the entire government is not exceeded,” he added.
Lagman said this after reporters asked him about former Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna’s social media posts, wherein he said that the House’ intentions to move confidential funds from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and Department of Education (DepEd) will be violative of the 1987 Constitution.
According to Azcuna, who started his stint at the Supreme Court during former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s time, Article VI, Section 25(1) of the Constitution disallows Congress from increasing the “appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the Government.”
“The newspapers say that leaders of the House of Representatives plan to realign the confidential funds of the [OVP] and allocate it to fund the agency protecting the West Philippine Sea,” Azcuna said.
“It can decrease the budget specified by the President. It can reduce or remove entirely the proposed confidential funds for the OVP. Or it can authorize the President to transfer it to another executive agency if, near the end of the year, there are savings from it,” he added.
But Lagman reiterated that Azcuna’s contention is incorrect because realignment is a transfer of allocation, which means it would not exceed the P5.768 trillion set in the NEP.
“The contention of former Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna that the projected reallocation of confidential and intelligence funds violates the Constitution is not correct because the realignment is within the totality of the expenditure program proposed by the President,” Lagman said.
“The reallocation of confidential and intelligence funds from one department or agency to another is merely a transfer of allocation from one office to another, which does not result in exceeding the total ceiling proposed in the NEP,” he explained. “In other words, it is a process of subtraction and addition of allocations which does not breach the ceiling.”
Azcuna’s post stemmed from House appropriations chairperson and Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co’s commitment to transfer OVP and DepEd’s confidential funds to the Philippine Coast Guard, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and other agencies involved in protecting the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
In a text message to INQUIRER.net on Wednesday, Co confirmed that House leaders have decided to prioritize the country’s defense posture in the WPS.
“Yes, we agree, as discussed yesterday. For all confidential funds, the best is to give government intelligence to communities especially. We need a lot in this pressing time on the issue of the West Philippine Sea,” Co said.
“The country’s safety and security are of paramount importance. To protect our territorial integrity from external threats, Congress is giving top priority to agencies directly in charge of protecting the country’s safety and securing its borders,” he stressed.
This decision came after the Chinese Coast Guard installed a floating barrier southeast of Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc off the coast of Zambales last September 22.
OVP had asked for CF worth P500 million, while DepEd had asked for P150 million. Both agencies are under the helm of Vice President Sara Duterte.