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Keeping ‘checks and balances’ in check

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 9/8/2019 TITA VALDERAMA
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(Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.)

In less than five minutes, the proposed P8.2-billion budget for the Office of the President (OP) for 2020 breezed through the House Committee on Appropriations last Friday. It took the Office of the Vice President (OVP) 24 minutes to present its P673-million outlay.

Congressmen were quick to explain that the speed by which they dismissed the budget presentations of the two highest offices did not mean they were not interested in scrutinizing how the sums were allocated.

Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, head of the Appropriations committee in the 14th Congress, said it was a demonstration of courtesy in both the OP and OVP to terminate briefings on their respective budget proposals at the committee level without prejudice to scrutiny when presented for plenary debates later.

The OP’s proposed budget for 2020 is 21 percent higher than the P6.77 billion it received for 2019, while the OVP’s was reduced from P684.22 million.

What was mind-boggling was that the OVP, with a reduced budget, had to explain its anti-poverty initiatives, while the OP, whose budget includes P4.5 billion confidential and intelligence funds, did not even have to present where it would use the gargantuan allocations.

While it is true that the process is not yet complete because it will still go through the plenary scrutiny later this year, the committee should have at least asked Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to justify the almost 100 percent increase in confidential and intelligence funds that do not go through the Commission on Audit’s fine-tooth comb.

Congressmen seem to be setting aside the system of check and balance with a co-equal branch of government. This becomes troubling especially because the Speaker was handpicked by no less than the President whose followers appear to be too afraid to go against his wishes.

The President’s request for P4.5-billion confidential and intelligence funds eats up a huge chunk of the P8.2-billion budget for 2020.

This year, Duterte’s office has a budget of P6.7 billion and P6.3 billion in 2018. In the past two years, he had P2.5 billion a year in confidential and intelligence funds

During the previous administration, confidential and intelligence funds stayed at P500 million a year, barely 20 percent of Duterte’s budget in the last two years.

Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the increase was for augmentation of the budget for other agencies who run to the President for funding.

Medialdea, on the other hand, said the huge increase was for the government’s intensified efforts against criminalities and various threats against the Philippines’ security and sovereignty.

Previously, additional spending were sought through supplemental budget requests that go through scrutiny in the legislature to make sure that the funds previously allotted were used up and that additional budget would really be necessary. That was part of the system of checks and balances.

The system of checks and balances, as provided in the Constitution, is crucial in making sure that each of the three branches of government — legislature, executive and judiciary — are not abusing their respective powers.

The House has the exclusive power to initiate appropriation measures. But by being too courteous to the executive and the judiciary in their budget requests, isn’t it reneging on its duty and obligation to see to it that public money is judiciously spent?

Or is it being protective of its own “prerogative” to allocate for their districts as much as P300 million each for their ‘pet’ projects, or ‘pork barrel’ funds which, by the way, had been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Are we now having a legislature, an executive and a judiciary collaborating at the expense of the public they had sworn to serve and protect?

This is dangerous if it happens because it would result in excesses on all branches without a check and balance of one another.

Legislators should keep their eyes wide open to possible excesses in the executive and the judiciary, and so are the two other branches on the other.

The national government budget is the single-biggest piece of legislation that Congress churns out every year. Legislators ought to see to it that every peso in the proposed P4.1-trillion budget that they will approve for spending in 2020 is justified and not wasted on favored projects or proteges.

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