Congress fights Palace for funds

CONGRESS has moved to regain full control of its own finances to insulate itself from encroachment by the Palace on its fiscal autonomy, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said  Thursday.

Belmonte said a resolution he filed to protect Congress’ budget from scrutiny by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has already been approved on second reading, and is up for plenary debates.

“The Senate and the House of Representatives shall have full autonomy in determining the appropriations required for their operations,” Belmonte and other House leaders said in the resolution.

“The present budgetary policies formulated by the Executive, through the Department of Budget and Management, insofar as they apply to the Congress of the Philippines and the Senate, threaten its independence, encroach on its exclusive domain and violate the principle of separation of powers, upon which the entire fabric of our constitutional system is based,” they added.

Their budgets shall not be subject to scrutiny, alterations and control of the DBM, the resolution said, adding that Malacañang should make impositions only on agencies under the Executive branch.

“The amount of appropriations as proposed and determined by the Senate and the House shall be included in the annual budget of the national government without reduction, alteration or modification,” the resolution said.

Belmonte’s House Resolution No. 10 is a measure “affirming, ensuring and operationalizing the fiscal independence of the Congress of the Philippines.”

The proposed 2016 budget for the 292-member House amounted to P7.99 billion from P8.54 billion in 2015 while the 24-member Senate proposed P3.65 billion from P3.61 billion in 2015.

Belmonte’s co-authors include Romblon Rep. Eleandro Jesus Madrona, chairman of the House committee on accounts; Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II and Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora.

The House leaders expressed concern over what they considered budgetary policies of the Executive department that threaten its independence as a co-equal branch of government, and said they were confident of Senate concurrence.

While the Judiciary and constitutional bodies enjoy full control of their financial affairs, Congress is subjected to regulations similar to those imposed on executive agencies, the House leaders said.

“The legislative power vested in the Congress of the Philippines is plenary, complete, unimpaired and subject only to such limitations as are found in the Constitution,” the signatories said.

The resolution proposes that appropriations provided for the Senate and the House under the General Appropriations Act and other appropriations laws be fully and automatically released, together with the corresponding Notice of Cash Allocation, by the DBM, at the start of the calendar year, without condition, limitation or restriction.

“The Senate and the House shall enjoy flexibility in the utilization of funds appropriated for their operations,” the resolution said.

The measure also said unexpended year-end balances of approved appropriations for the Senate and the House should remain valid and continue to be available for expenditure until fully spent.

The leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, supported the resolution.

“I am in favor of empowering the Congress to take back the power of the purse,” Romualdez said in a text message.

Madrona, a co-author of the resolution, said both the Senate and the House of Representatives have to maintain their fiscal autonomy, adding that it was not right that the Budget Department “controls Congress in its financial transactions and [the] release of funds.”

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali, chairman of the House committee on energy, said the resolution must be enacted so that Congress will be able to maintain its freedom to manage and control its financial affairs.

Reps. Rodolfo Albano III and Silvestre Bello III, both ranking members of the House minority, said Congress must uphold its power of the purse at all times.

In the Palace, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the House resolution had been referred to the Senate committee on rules, but no action has been taken on it since March.

“We are in constant dialogue with leaders of Congress on how we can improve the implementation of the national budget,” Coloma said. With Sandy Araneta

Topics: Martin Romualdez , Congressman Martin Romualdez , Cong Martin Romualdez , Representative Martin Romualdez , Ferdinand Martin Romualdez , Tacloban , Leyte
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