Lacson urges Marcos: Veto unprogrammed budget ‘insertions’ | Inquirer News
Ex-senator joins Pimentel vs ‘unconstitutional’ items totaling P731B

Lacson urges Marcos: Veto unprogrammed budget ‘insertions’

/ 05:38 AM December 15, 2023

Similar to Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III’s stand, former Senator Ping Lacson said the bicameral conference committee’s move to add a P450 billion increase to the unprogrammed appropriations of the 2024 budget is unconstitutional.

Panfilo “Ping” Lacson. INQUIRER file photo

Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday urged President Marcos to veto the P731.4 billion “unprogrammed appropriations” in the proposed 2024 budget on the grounds that these were unconstitutional.

Lacson backed the objection earlier raised by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III to the P449.5-billion increase in the unprogrammed appropriations, the bulk of which consisted of insertions made by lawmakers.


“(President Marcos) should line-item veto the unconstitutional provisions because line-item vetos for appropriations and tax measures [are] allowed by the Constitution,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.


READ: Hike in 2024 unprogrammed funds is unconstitutional

Pimentel said a possible legal challenge may be raised against the proposed 2024 General Appropriations Act, which is now awaiting the President’s signature.

“Senator Koko is right that the legislature cannot increase the NEP (National Expenditure Program). Items can be reduced or realigned from one agency to another but the Constitution prohibits adding to the so-called President’s budget,” Lacson said.

Bloated to P6T

Pimentel has been questioning the bloating of the unprogrammed funds, from the initial P281.9 billion proposed by the executive branch in the NEP to P731.4 billion in the enrolled bill of the 2024 budget—or an increase of about P450 billion.

With the bloated unprogrammed funds, the national budget for 2024 would be more than P6 trillion, not just P5.77 trillion, Pimentel said.

Definite/identified funding

According to the Department of Budget and Management, programmed appropriations have “definite/identified funding” while unprogrammed appropriations are authorized obligations for priority programs or projects “when revenue collection exceed targets, and when additional grants or foreign funds are generated.”


In urging Mr. Marcos to veto the unprogrammed appropriations, Lacson cited Section 25 of Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution, which bars Congress from increasing the appropriations recommended by the executive branch.

In a text message to the Inquirer, Lacson clarified that corruption involving the unprogrammed funds may only be possible “with the cooperation and connivance of the National Treasurer and/or the Department of Finance.”

“[This is because] funding the same will need a certification from the national treasurer that funds are available (and that) there must be an accompanying revenue measure to fund the same.

The national treasurer must also certify that funds are available from surplus or savings to fund the program either from loans or other sources,” Lacson said.

Antipork crusade

While serving three terms in the Senate, Lacson went on a yearly crusade to catch “pork barrel” and other “insidious insertions” in the annual budget.

During the crafting of the 2020 budget, the senator revealed that some members of the House of Representatives were set to be allocated P700 million each and P1.5 billion to each of the 22 deputy speakers.

His exposé prompted the House leadership to abort the plan.

In a television interview with CNN Philippines, Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the bicameral conference committee that crafted the final version of the budget bill, maintained that the increase in the unprogrammed appropriations was legal.

“[The unprogrammed funds are] a standby appropriation; meaning, we don’t know how the government is going to do because, in the economy in the world, there’s uncertainty, so you don’t really know if 2024 will be a good year, a great year, and it’s not an exact science to predict how much taxes the government will be able to collect,” he said.

Angara admitted that senators and House members introduced the insertions amounting to P450 billion but did not give details.

The Inquirer sought documents detailing the items sought to be funded under unprogrammed appropriations, but none was available from the bicameral committee.

He disagreed that the increase in the unprogrammed appropriations violated the Constitution.

Angara said the prohibition on Congress only applied to “programmed appropriations” following the principle of checks and balances among the three branches of government.

The rationale for this constitutional provision was to prevent Congress from overspending or from “authorizing too much spending,” he said.

According to Angara, the unprogrammed funds only serve as a “menu” of projects, programs, and activities from which the executive can choose to implement once the government raises added revenues.

Executive’s control

But he sought to dispel speculation that the unprogrammed funds would soon serve as lawmakers’ source of pork barrel.

“When you talk about the unprogrammed appropriations—that’s within the control of the executive because they can choose within the menu, which ones will be funded and they’re the ones who release the money and the conditions are largely dependent on executive action,” Angara said. Lacson also played down suspicion that the unprogrammed funds would be a source of pork barrel for lawmakers.

“The national government always operates on a deficit so it’s a very tall order to fund whatever ‘discretionary funds’ or any way you call it in the 2023 national budget, in case [President Marcos] does not line-item veto the excess appropriations under the unprogrammed funds,” he said.

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READ: Next year’s budget must address urgent concerns

TAGS: 2024 national budget, budget, Lacson, Marcos, unprogrammed budget insertions

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