House to pass P23B additional budget for 2014

MANILA, Philippines – Just before the year closes, the House of Representatives aims to pass the P23 billion ($512 million) supplemental budget requested by the Department of Budget and Management to fund projects, including those under the defunct Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). 

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, along with Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II and appropriations committee chair Davao City Representative Isidro Ungab earlier met with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to clarify where the proposed funds will go, given the fact that there is only a little over a month left to the year.

Belmonte said among the items included in the proposed supplemental budget are projects funded through DAP that were already completed but had not been paid for when the Supreme Court declared certain mechanisms under DAP as unconstitutional.  

Also among the items are projects that were "about to be completed" when they were stopped by the Supreme Court. 

"I think we should complete that. It has nothing to do with the 2015 budget," Belmonte said.

The High Court earlier declared as unconstitutional certain acts under DAP, a mechanism meant to boost spending and the economy. Among these acts were declaring savings before the year ended and transferring these savings from one agency to another and from the executive to the legislative branch. 

As early as July, President Benigno Aquino III had asked Congress to pass a supplemental budget for DAP projects, but the proposal was only submitted to Congress on November 19. 

The Department of Budget Management (DBM) said the P23 billion will be used to cover liabilities arising from P1.85 billion ($41.17 million) in obligated infrastructure projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways. It will also fund Super Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation efforts (P9.5 billion or $211.42 million) and the APEC Summit (P1.44 billion or $32.04 billion).

Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares earlier questioned the supplemental budget, saying that it would merely serve as "pork barrel" for congressmen. 

In response, Belmonte said: "Kung si Congressman Neri 'yan, hindi ako nagugulat." (If that is Congressman Neri, I am not surprised [that he's making such an accusation].)

In December 2013, the House and the Senate passed a P14.6 billion ($325 million) supplemental budget from the unused portion of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund for that year through a joint resolution. The PDAF has been declared as unconstitutional

Priority bills

Before the end of 2014, the House is also set to resume debates on charter change and emergency powers. 

These two bills were among the priority measures presented to House members on Wednesday, November 26, when they met with members of the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines and local business groups. Also among business groups' priority bills were the freedom of information bill and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

Amending the economic provisions of the Constitution is a pet legislation of Belmonte. While the President has toyed with the idea of amending the Constitution to clip the powers of the judiciary, he has so far not mentioned economic provisions in his agenda. 

On the House deadline to pass the joint resolution granting emergency powers to the President, Belmonte said they are looking at it from the "point of view of common sense that it is needed in time for the summer months."

The Department of Energy earlier asked Congress to give the President special powers to contract up to P6 billion ($134 million) worth of energy from outside sources to prepare for the supposed energy shortfall in the summer months of 2015. 

But data presented in committee hearings revealed that the power crisis was not as bad as painted, prompting the House to water down the proposed emergency powers for the President and just focus on utilizing the Interruptible Load Program. –

*U$1 = P44.94