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Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Speaker is right

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“Sara Duterte’s seemingly insatiable desire for such huge chunks of the national budget invited a lot of questions from the members of the House”

Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is right – the House is its own boss.

By that, Romualdez means the legislative power exercised by the House is its exclusive responsibility, subject only to whatever limitations as provided by the Constitution.

The Speaker said this in a speech he delivered before the session of the House last November 6.

He conveyed the message the House will not allow any person, no matter how influential or powerful, to dilute the power of the purse vested by the Constitution in Congress, and in Congress alone.

Thus, when the House decides on how much public money may be spent by any government agency annually, nobody may supplant the legislative will as exercised by the House.

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Only the Senate, in the exercise of its concurrent legislative power, may propose its own version of the House measure.

Once both Houses agree on the final legislative act, the sitting President may either sign it, in which case it becomes a law, or veto it (or parts of it in the case of appropriations), in which case it goes back to Congress for a possible override of the presidential veto.

If any party considers an appropriations law unconstitutional, that party may pursue a legal case before the Supreme Court which, in the exercise of its power of judicial review, may void the law.

Take note, however, that getting a law declared void by the Supreme Court is an uphill battle, the rule being that laws enacted by Congress carry a presumption of constitutionality, and that laws cannot be construed to result in an absurdity.

Based on those premises, Romualdez has very good reasons to be upset with the onslaught of criticism directed at the House and its enactment of its version of the general appropriations law for the year 2024.

More specifically, Romualdez’s statement is a well-awaited public rebuke of the recent unfounded tirades against the House by former President Rodrigo Duterte, who describes the House as the most corrupt institution in the country today, and dominated by hopelessly corrupt politicians.

Duterte also had unkind words for Romualdez.

What Duterte did was an obvious reaction to the recent decision of the House on the 2024 budget of the Office of the Vice President and of the Department of Education. Both offices are held by Sara Duterte, the daughter of the former president.

Earlier last month, during the appropriations hearings in the House, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte asked the House for confidential and intelligence funds in the shocking amounts of P500 million for the OVP and P150 million for the DepEd.

That’s P650 million in taxpayers’ money, and is in addition to the even bigger annual budget given to both offices for the year 2024.

Sara Duterte’s seemingly insatiable desire for such huge chunks of the national budget invited a lot of questions from the members of the House, particularly from the three members of the so-called Makabayan bloc of legislators.

That bloc is made up partylist representatives France Castro (ACT Teachers), Arlene Brosas (Gabriela) and Raoul Manuel (Kabataan).

Incidentally, this bloc of legislators was associated with the local communist movement by the military authorities during the administration of Duterte.

The three opposed Sara Duterte’s requested budget not only because of the shockingly huge amount of public money involved, but mainly because the OVP and the DepEd are not supposed to be engaged in intelligence work.

In the end, the House disapproved Sara’s extraordinary request for P650 million in confidential and intelligence funds, realigned the budget, and gave the P650 million to the intelligence agencies of the national government, particularly those which are dealing with the maritime bullying by China.

In doing so, the House not only appropriated public funds judiciously; it made sure taxpayers’ money isn’t squandered on the mysterious and suspicious “confidential and intelligence funds” sought by the OVP and the DepEd, which have no valid reasons to get and spend such funds to begin with.

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