Miriam: New definition of ‘savings’ unconstitutional

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago announces during a press conference on Wednesday (July 2, 2014) that she has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. “God never asks us for an opinion. God just goes ahead and does whatever is in His hands. I just say okay,” Santiago says. (MNS photo)

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago announces during a press conference on Wednesday (July 2, 2014) that she has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. “God never asks us for an opinion. God just goes ahead and does whatever is in His hands. I just say okay,” Santiago says. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Monday criticized “minefields” in the 2015 budget, including an alleged “unconstitutional” definition of savings and the retention of pork barrel funds under a different name.

In a privilege speech, Santiago urged a return to the old definition of savings that refer to portions or balances “which are (i) still available after the cancellation or final discontinuance or abandonment of the work, activity, or purpose for which the appropriation is authorized…”

She warned that the new definition of savings talks simply of discontinuance or abandonment at any time.

“It could be during the first month, first quarter, first half. A deferral of a project can be construed as discontinuance or abandonment; the same project may be resubmitted for congressional authorization next year or two years from now. This contravenes the constitutional mandate of Congress to authorize appropriations but may later be declared by the DBM Secretary as abandoned, at its whims and caprices, and then he may use the appropriations for another project which has not been previously authorized by Congress,” she said.

Santiago said that under the 2015 budget, an agency that fails to obligate any allotment loses it.

“What happens to the commitment to Congress of the agency head that the agency will deliver a specified level of outputs, such as number of school buildings, completion date, kilometers of roads, linear meters of bridges, and so on? What if certain projects that were funded out of ‘savings’ were later submitted for Congress-authorized but DBM-discontinued projects? These are scenarios for corruption,” the senator said.

She also criticized the allocation of P37.3 billion worth of projects to five different departments including the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment and Commission on Higher Education.

“Let me raise a BIG question about the 2015 budget. Last summer, why were representatives asked to submit lists of projects they endorsed for their districts? I understand that the form distributed did not bear any letterhead,” she said.

Santiago said the Senate should compel government agencies to comply with the reportorial requirements in Section 91 of the general provisions, especially the second paragraph, which requires the Department of Budget and Management to report on lump sums.

She also said Congress should restrict the use of savings from Special Purpose Funds, especially the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF) and the Pension and Gratuity Fund (PGF).

“DBM might have bloated the budget for the MPBF and the PGF with the intention of using the ‘fat’ as a source for additional discretionary spending,” she said.

Santiago also urged that the P2.69 B for the socio-economic component of the Bangsamoro normalization process should be placed under Unprogrammed Appropriations because Congress has not yet passed the Bangsamoro Basic Law. (MNS)

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