Congressional insertion, anyone?

Congressional insertion, anyone?

To Congress is reposed the exclusive constitutional “power of the purse”. The bicameral legislature of both Senate and House of Representatives has the power to appropriate funds, a prerogative that is within its exclusive domain, or so it’s thought. And public knowledge indicates that every senator is allocated P200 million while that of every congressman is a P70 million slice of the entire budget pie. In other words, every year, each senator prepares a “grocery list” of all the projects, programs, and well, ‘patronage’ that he wants repaid back. So does the congressman in every legislative district or party-list that he represents. Taken together, the financial allocation for 24 senators and over 200 congressmen is graphically hemorrhagic. And paradoxically enough, our breed of politicians practically bleed government coffers dry through various such infrastructures that are grossly overpriced, substandard and in some cases, entirely non-existent projects.

To add insult to injury, some legislators have the uncharacteristic skill to insert what they need for their national or local constituency. Or why Ping cried wolf over an alleged insertion of P200 million of a C-5 road project – a rather redundant double-entry? The raging controversy has made everyone even more confused as camps of Ping and that of Villar exchange tirades as to who may have been responsible for this insertion, if it were. Concerned agencies of government like the DPWH itself and the DBM appear to have their own explanation on the apparent financial mess. And it seems that most have been inclined to believe that Ping is just sowing political intrigue that we even have to see Allan Cayetano on the rescue for Villar as well as Chiz Escudero, the two young gentlemen whom we thought were really anti-GMA. Comparatively enough, only Trillanes seems to be the true-blooded rebel of cause and note.

There ought to be something wrong with the entire budget process being conducted every year in Congress if it allows for a situation whereby any senator or congressman can in fact and in effect, insert something to the General Appropriations Act or GAA especially at the point prior to its final approval on a bicameral conference. These so-called congressional insertions are no longer the subject of plenary or committee deliberations in the budget process and therefore, no other member of either Senate or House of Representatives can question it – a departure from the House meeting as a whole. Nor, can Malacanang otherwise have proposed inclusion in the official proposed budget of such last-ditch or the 11th hour congressional insertions. In other words, x number of congressional insertions are automatically appropriated free from the heat of a public debate held for the purpose.

There had been lot of budget secretaries appointed in the past administrations who may be said to be truly qualified and well-meaning. The likes of Secretary Diokno and Secretary Boncodin are now a rarity. They, at least, seem to be very conversant with every item in the national budget despite its voluminous thickness. They boast of a so-called “line budgeting process” or this so-called “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” – or, whatever happened to these techniques? It is not that easy to really screen the budget for some possible anomalous entries given the fact that there are limits to human endurance. Perhaps, the GAA should be one that can be inputted in the computer in a way that double-entries are easily detected by a few punches on the keyboard. The manner the national budget has been prepared may be a little bit already antiquated in that there is no way of quick and immediate review that can be done on the computer. In short, we still have failed to take advantage of the role of computer in preparing the national budget as to be fool-proof. We should give to the computer the work of reviewing the budget as quick as a “million instructions per second”.

In the meantime, we content ourselves with the way the annual national budget is being prepared, being deliberated upon, and being “inserted to”. Truth is, there should not be any occasion where entries other than those actually proposed by Malacanang and actually deliberated upon by either Senate or House, or both may be allowed. If this can happen, we can effectively stop Ping from crying wolf each time he sees very clear financial scam. Truly, the GAA can be tinkered with especially so if legislators become too lazy to really look at every budget entry meticulously. The whole ritual of passing the GAA simply follows the bandwagon effect, or the euphemistic “majority rule” with little care for caution.

What concerns us as taxpayers is really more on whether what has been appropriated is really the project that we can check tangibly. For instance, is the P1 million allocation for a farm-to-market road really based on the program of work approved by the DPWH (or DA for that matter) as may be audited by COA? And so on and so forth. Not few news coverages caught on TV show that there are still a lot of legislative districts in many provinces throughout the country that do not have even the basic amenities that they should already have by now. Does this mean that nothing in infrastructure projects were allocated by their congressmen? Does it mean that all the congressional budget have been purely budgeted as financial assistance to LGUs or other authorized entities such as maybe, foundations? Does it mean they were purely appropriated for drugs or medicines for the poor, scholarships perhaps or other programs of a similar nature?

All told, Ping just opened our eyes again to the possibility that dubious entries in the budget may be inserted that will serve no real public necessity. Studies have shown, based on comparative matrix that richer countries have lower levels of corruption and poorer countries have higher levels of corruption. RP is always part of this statistical chart ranking as it does as one of the most corrupt country in the world. So what else is new? It is easy enough to think that if corruption can only be mitigated if not totally eradicated, then we shall see a very progressive country this part of the globe. There are still a lot of holes to plug in a vicious corruption that has already become part of our national psyche, our culture, and our state of affairs. Can we really stop corruption, pray tell, that we shall see the day when every a million peso project appropriated really goes to where it should be spent, not pocketed?