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P23-b budget bid hangs

Absence of bill stirs fears of railroading by Palace allies

WITH only eight session days remaining, Congress has yet to file a bill on the Palace-proposed P23 billion supplemental budget, raising fears that its passage will be railroaded due to a lack of time.

The delays would also leave the Palace only the last two weeks of December to spend the entire amount.

The 75-member House committee on appropriations, chaired by Davao Rep. Isidro Ungab, has yet to meet to deliberate on the measure. Ungab said they were still busy with the bicameral conference committee effort to reconcile the different versions of the 2015 national budget.

Panel members said the bill was also delayed by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s decision to have the Palace proposal scrutinized by the House legal department.

“We want to find out if the budget being sought is justified,” the Speaker told the Manila Standard.

The bill was also delayed because lawmakers demanded that the Palace provide details on the P23 billion lump sum fund.

House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, meanwhile, said the Palace had lowered its request from the original P23.34 billion to P22 billion, after removing the additional budget sought for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 2015.

“The House appropriations panel has yet to meet to discuss the nitty gritty of the supplemental budget,” said ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, a panel member.

“There are only a few days left before Congress goes on a Christmas break and we have yet to see the details of the P23 billion budget being sought by the Palace. Where are the details? Where is the bill?” Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz added.

Dela Cruz and Tinio expressed fears that since the Palace was running out of time, its allies in Congress may resort to railroading the approval of the supplemental budget.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said the administration had taken almost a year to approve the master plan for the rehabilitation of areas devastated by typhoon Yolanda, and was again using the victims to obtain a supplemental budget.

Belmonte said if Congress decides to grant the budget, one of the House leaders would author the bill.

But Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, who authored the P14.6 billion supplemental budget for 2013 in the House in the wake of typhoon Yolanda, said the administration should first account for how that money was spent.

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon described the proposed P23 billion supplemental budget as a “last-ditch effort” to salvage the assailed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

“With the Supreme Court poised to release its final decision on DAP – which we strongly believe will be no different from the decision it released last July – the Aquino administration is putting all its cards down on the table in a last-ditch effort to salvage funds for its patently illegal disbursement program,” Ridon said.

Ridon said he finds it “very irregular” for the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to ask for more funds mere weeks after the deliberations on the 2015 national budget closed.

“Senators and congressmen have barely slept a wink after the marathon debates on the national budget, yet here is Secretary Abad again asking for funds. It’s like asking more money from your parents right after receiving your allowance,” Ridon said.

“If the projects that DBM aims to fund through supplemental budget are indeed urgent, why didn’t DBM include these projects in the 2015 national budget in the first place?”

Of the proposed P23-billion supplemental budget submitted last week, P1.8 billion is reportedly set aside as payment for projects under the discontinued Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Some P9 billion is also included to augment the budget for Yolanda rehabilitation.

“The Aquino administration is saying that more funds are needed for Yolanda rehabilitation. But the fact is that Congress – and the private sector – have already poured billions into rehabilitation and rebuilding with no tangible effect whatsoever,” Ridon said.

“Instead of granting more funds to an administration that has criminally neglected the needs of Yolanda survivors, we have to first ask: what happened to the billions already allotted for the victims? Will P7 billion make the rehabilitation efforts move faster? Or will those funds just be added to the billions which are now in suspended animation?” he added.

Ridon said that the P23-billion supplemental budget will only “fill the deep pockets of Aquino, Abad and all the other architects of the illegal DAP and PDAF.”

“Why is Aquino attempting to fund PDAF and DAP when these mechanisms have already been declared unconstitutional? Aquino is again exhibiting his presidential hubris and is acting like a haciendero brat who will stop at nothing to fulfill his whims and desires,” Ridon said.

“We should not only oppose this supplemental budget but also expose it for being another mechanism to salvage funds for acts that have already been declared illegal and unconstitutional. Simply put, the supplemental budget is nothing but a supplement to corruption,” Ridon said.

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