Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Arroyo can still hijack ‘pork’

By Michael Lim Ubac, Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:31:00 01/06/2010

Filed Under: Government, State Budget & Taxes

Original Story: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100106-245753/Arroyo-can-still-hijack-pork

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—and the next president—can still impound portions of this year’s P1.542-trillion national budget despite a provision inserted in the bicameral conference committee report limiting her power to do so.

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, admitted as much in an interview Tuesday.

Escudero said the bicam committee that reconciled the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2010 inserted a provision that would make it difficult for the President to bar the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, to districts whose representatives were critical to her.

Asked if the President could be barred from impounding the pork barrel, Escudero said: “(She) can’t. It’s been tried before. She will just use her line item veto power. Besides, the power to impound is in another law, Presidential Decree No. 1177. If at all, it is this PD that should be repealed to remove that power from the President.”

The President’s line item veto power allows her to nullify or cancel specific provisions of a bill, usually budgetary appropriations, without needing to veto an entire legislative measure.

Escudero said the President had been exercising her power to impound the pork barrel as a “political tool for the past five years ... to help her allies and strangle her political opponents.”

Escudero was reacting to recent pronouncements made by presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya who said the President could impound the pork barrel tucked into the GAA whenever necessary.

Congress allocated P9.6 billion in pork barrel for lawmakers in the GAA, which has yet to be signed by the President.

Power of the purse

The provision in the bicam report was authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who said Congress had long been trying to limit the President’s power to withhold portions of the budget since this eroded the legislature’s power of the purse.

Under the provision, the President would have to inform Congress of any plans to impound the budget, and Congress could reject the proposal.

Lagman said the provision was supported by 138 House members.

“[The provision] is part of the power of the purse. The power of the purse has become inferior to the power of the executive to disburse or not to disburse. Now we are claiming the complete power of the purse. This is completely constitutional,” he said.

For his part, Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona questioned the provision’s inclusion in the GAA in an election year.

“It’s almost as if GMA’s allies in Congress were rewarding themselves with campaign funds after so many years of allowing her to have her way with the budget,” he said in a statement.

Guingona said the President herself could benefit from the antiimpounding provision if she succeeded in her bid to become Pampanga representative in May.

Understandably, Malacañang has not warmed up to the antiimpounding provision, saying that the President will still withhold funds, including the pork barrel, whenever she deems it necessary.

Original Story: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100106-245753/Arroyo-can-still-hijack-pork

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