Palace says 9 senators’ realigned pork legal
Malacañang finds nothing irregular with the move of nine senators to surreptitiously realign their pork barrel totaling P1.8 billion to projects that will be implemented by government agencies and local government units (LGUs).
Treating the realigned pork barrel as lump-sum funds, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) will release them as long as there is a “special budget request” from the implementing agencies, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said on Thursday.
However, in the case of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who introduced an amendment to the budget measure to allot his P200 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to three local government units, President Aquino had already issued a “conditional implementation” in his veto message to Congress.
At a Palace briefing, Coloma said the DBM would not withhold or impound these funds, which were realigned during the bicameral conference on the national budget, the last stage in the budgeting process before it was passed into law last month.
Aquino signed the P2.265-trillion national budget last Dec. 20. The veto message was sent to Congress on the same day.
According to Coloma, the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2014 is part of the law of the land and that the realigned pork barrel will be treated as part of the lump-sum allocations in the budget.
Although the national budget itself already authorizes budget release at the beginning of the fiscal year, lump-sum allocations still require approval before they are released.
In an earlier statement, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the 2014 GAA, as signed by Aquino, was the government’s primary budget release document.
“This means that all the disaggregated budget items in the GAA are already considered released to their respective agencies, with the exception of lump-sum funds that have yet to be itemized and which will require prior approval before their release,” said Abad.
The budget secretary said the new system had scrapped the need for a special allotment release order (Saro).
Abad explained that funds that still need approval included “lump-sum funds within an agency’s budget that have not been itemized prior to the approval and enactment of the 2014 GAA, as well as special purpose funds (SPF), including budgetary support to government corporations.”
Coloma said the realignment did not violate the Supreme Court decision striking down the 2013 PDAF as unconstitutional.
“All the actions of the executive should be in conformity with law … including the decisions of the Supreme Court because the decisions of the Supreme Court become part of the law of the land,” Coloma said.
Power of purse
He said Congress had the power of the purse.
“We’re aware of the Supreme Court decision. We’re careful that we will not violate the spirit of that ruling,” he said in a separate phone interview, pointing out that the ruling banned “post-enactment intervention” of lawmakers in the implementation of projects.
In response to the pork barrel scandal roiling Congress last year, 15 senators opted to have each of their P200-million annual PDAF allocation deleted from the 2014 budget, as did Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The other nine senators decided to realign their respective allocations.
Only Estrada realigned his PDAF to LGUs: Manila (P100 million), now the turf of his father, newly elected Mayor Joseph Estrada; Caloocan City (P50 million), where Mayor Oscar Malapitan is a political ally; and Lal-lo, Cagayan province, (P50 million), where an airport is being built to serve the Cagayan Special Economic Zone.
Senators Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Ralph Recto, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Joseph Victor Ejercito moved to have their PDAF allocation realigned to the national government’s calamity fund.
Three other colleagues—Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid and Antonio Trillanes IV—decided to allot their PDAF to schools, hospitals and public works projects.
Coloma described the pork barrel realignment not as congressional insertions but “amendments” introduced by nine senators to the budget bill that the executive submitted to Congress in July last year.
“It was an amendment introduced during the process of Senate deliberations. By procedure, (these are not) covered by the overall principle of budget as release document, which governs about 90 percent of the budget,” Coloma said.
Special budget request
He said the governing “principle” covering the disbursements of congressional amendments was “that the amount will not be automatically released as it will require a special budget request.”
All amendments made to the original budget proposal are subject to this requirement.
“What they did was to amend the (budget) proposal of the executive, (which) formed part of the law they passed. They are the ones who have the right to pass the General Appropriations Act. We, in the executive, are just proposing (the budget),” Coloma said, stressing that passing the budget was the duty of the lawmakers.
Asked who would make the request—the senators or the implementing agencies—Coloma said the “agency implementing (the project) because the budget is being implemented by agencies of the national government.”
He made it clear that the senators’ “involvement” was limited to making the amendments, with the implementation of the projects solely reserved for the executive branch.
“We are following the law based on our understanding of … the law, and according to the ruling of the Supreme Court,” Coloma said.
Because the President has given a “conditional” approval to the budgetary amendment introduced by Estrada, Malacañang can either release or impound the amount that has been realigned by the senator to three LGUs.
In the President’s veto message to Congress last Dec. 20, he said that there would be “conditional implementation” of certain provisions in the General Appropriations Act for 2014.
Included in the conditional implementation was the “earmarking of specific allocations for selected local government units.”
“Equally worth noting is the inclusion of a new special provision as well as revisions made in existing special provisions [that], while not subject to direct veto, should nonetheless be placed under conditional implementation,” the President said.
“The well-meaning intent of Congress in making these revisions should not make us lose sight of the equally imperative duty of every President, as head of the executive branch, to faithfully execute the laws of the land pursuant to Sections 1 and 17, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution,” Aquino said.
In an interview, Coloma confirmed that this portion of the seven-page veto message of the President referred to the pork barrel of Estrada.
“In today’s briefing, a question was asked on how the President and the executive branch will implement the budget in relation to items in the approved 2014 General Appropriations Act that were introduced as amendments by members of the Senate,” Coloma said.
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