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Sunday, June 16, 2024

2024 budget clean—Angara

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P450b in unprogrammed funds ‘nothing new’, doesn’t violate Constitution

The decision of Congress to include an additional P450 billion to the unprogrammed funds in the 2024 budget does not violate the Constitution, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said.

“The unprogrammed fund is nothing new. It has been there for I think, the last two decades. So, I think what changed this year is it has been growing over time,” said Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee.

“I think this is also a sign of a growing economy and it’s part of the Philippine growth story that in case our collections, which has been growing and if based on 2023 where they were above target, then there’s a good chance that some of these projects will  be funded even though it’s just in an unprogrammed or standby appropriations,” he said.

Angara, who led the Senate delegation to the bicameral conference on the 2024 General Appropriations Act as chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, said that the unprogrammed fund is even smaller than what was approved last year for the 2023 budget.

“Last year, it was P800-plus billion,” he said.

The senator said the unprogrammed fund or the standby appropriation can only be spent by the executive branch if revenues are above target.

“In case your revenues are better than what you’ve expected or targeted, then you can fund those appropriations,” Angara said.

“Imagine if you discover at the end of the year or by Nov. 2024 that your targets or your tax collections are above target and you decide that you want to propose to Congress to authorize me to spend an additional amount. That will take time. That’s why the stand-by or the unprogrammed fund is there,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III earlier said the additional unprogrammed funds and increases in other appropriations made the final version of the budget “unconstitutional.”

Pimentel said the bicameral committee increased the original proposed unprogrammed funds by P281 billion on top of allocating the additional P450 billion also in unprogrammed funds.

“Is that compliant with the Constitution? Our Constitution states that Congress may approve the appropriations proposed by the President for the operations of the government, but it cannot increase the appropriations. Congress can maintain the appropriations or reduce the appropriations, but it cannot increase the appropriations,” the senator said.

Data from Pimentel’s office showed the final version of the 2024 General Appropriations Bill at P6.498 trillion is composed of P4.019 trillion in programmed funds, P731 billion in unprogrammed funds, and P1.748 trillion in automatic appropriations.

“What happened now is that Congress gave the executive branch the authority to spend an amount even greater than what is asked by the executive branch. It’s as simple as that – unconstitutional,” he said.

Pimentel, a lawyer, said this can be questioned before the Supreme Court.

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