A MINORITY leader on Tuesday flagged that the questionable definition of savings under the 2021 budget submitted by the Budget department to Congress, which he said could be used for electioneering.
“It can be weaponized for political purposes,” House Minority Deputy Speaker Carlos Izagani T. Zarate told BusinessWorld in a Viber call, referring to next year’s appropriations as an “election budget.”
The party-list lawmaker said in theory, President Rodrigo R. Duterte can declare the entire P4.5-trillion budget for 2021 as “savings,” and realign it to whatever program he wants.
“Theoretically, on January 1, the President can already realign the budget through the use of a new definition of savings,” he said.
Under the budget bill submitted by the agency, abandonment of a program or project, the allotment for which remained unobligated, may be declared by the President as savings in case of a declaration of a national calamity.
This would allow the President to augment deficient programs in some departments or special purpose funds that are needed to address the calamity.
Mr. Zarate said minority congressmen would reject the new definition of savings, which would allow the Executive branch to get away with the original intent of a project that has yet to be committed for payment.
This would bar the President from weaponizing public funds for the 2022 national and local elections, he added.
Mr. Zarate said such a move “castrates” the congressional power of the purse.
“Under the Constitution, the House should have the control on the budget, but at this point, it will further constrict that power,” he added.
During Monday’s floor debates, House appropriations committee vice chairman Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda agreed with the minority that the new definition of savings was questionable.
The Development Budget Coordination Committee was working to remove the “discontinuance” clause in the definition of budget savings, Mr. Salceda said by telephone. “We will strike it down.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza