Akbayan pushes for legislative solution to Palace-SC impasse

By Sammy F. Martin

MANILA, July 23 (PNA) — Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez on Wednesday urged his colleagues in Congress to work for the swift and immediate passage of a set of budget reform bills that would clarify and strengthen existing rules governing Executive control over the budget, as a way forward from the impasse arising from the recent Supreme Court decision on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

“The solution to the current debate on the proper extent of the Executive’s power over the budget lies in legislation. Congress holds the power of the purse, and it is Congress that must lay down clearer and stronger rules defining Executive power over the budget,” Gutierrez said.

The lawmaker emphasized that the DAP decision was largely anchored on existing provisions of various laws and not the Constitution.

“As such, and as acknowledged in the separate opinion of Justice Del Castillo, the weakness of our existing laws governing the budget must be addressed by Congress. The Court has laid bare the shortcomings of the law, Congress must now take up the challenge of bolstering it through new legislation,” he explained.

He noted that while, in his view, current laws “very explicitly” gave the President the authority to implement a program such as DAP, the SC decision made it apparent that there is a need for clarifying legislation.

Gutierrez specifically called for the enactment of the 1) Savings and Augmentation Bill, 2) Budget Impoundment Control Bill, and 3) Budget Reform Bill.

The neophyte lawmaker said the Savings and Augmentation Bill or House Bill No. 2256 seeks to clearly define the scope of “savings” and provide a definitive process for the use of the same in augmenting other government programs.

On the other hand, the Budget Impoundment Control bill or HB 2257 aims to ensure that proper limits and procedures are in place in the exercise of the president’s authority to defer, rescind and reserve expenditures already approved by Congress.

This addresses the need to guarantee that appropriations are utilized based on the work and financial plans of agencies and that these are automatically released through advices of allotment.

To clinch the overall reform of the budget system, the Budget Reform Bill or HB 3128 was filed to amend and/or repeal certain provisions of the country’s budget system, as provided in Book VI of Executive Order No. 292, or ‘The Revised Administrative Code of 1987,’ whose budget provisions figured prominently in the current discussions on DAP.

Gutierrez, who is also a former University of the Philippines law professor and Director of the UP Institute of Human Rights, explained that Book VI of Executive Order No. 292, or ‘The Revised Administrative Code of 1987,’ is the primary implementing law on the powers and limitations of both the Executive and Legislative in the preparation, authorization and implementation of the national budget.

“The Revised Administrative Code borrows heavily from the Presidential Decree No. 1177 or the ‘Budget Reform Decree of 1977’, and it is well past time that Congress reviewed this old law with a view to updating it to meet the needs of contemporary times,” he further explained.

He emphasized that the key to resolving the apparent impasse on DAP and restoring balance in the government is the passage of the three budget reform bills.

“No less than a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach is needed in order to achieve the desirable balance between fiscal flexibility and a guarantee of accountability,” he said.

“Congress must presently take these necessary steps to ensure that the budget process is truly reflective of the spirit and noble intent of the Constitution, and that of the will of the people,” Gutierrez concluded. (PNA)