Tiangco: Palace trying to control funds of autonomous bodies
MANILA, Philippines – Is Malacañang trying to control the judiciary and independent bodies through their budget?
Navotas Rep Tobias “Toby” Tiangco accused the Palace of violating the fiscal autonomy of the judiciary, Constitutional commissions, and the Ombudsman in the 2014 budget.
The secretary-general of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) decried what he called a “fiscal dictatorship” by way of special provisions limiting the use of the budget of the judiciary, Civil Service Commission (CSC), Commission on Audit (COA), Commission on Elections (Comelec), and the Office of the Ombudsman.
Tiangco released on Friday, October 11, his letter dated October 1 to House appropriations committee Chairman Isidro Ungab. He has asked for the deletion of the special provisions in the budget bill.
The House passed the budget on second reading, and is expected to approve it when it resumes session next week.
In a phone interview with Rappler, Tiangco said the provisions violated the fiscal autonomy of the 5 bodies. The Constitution provides for fiscal autonomy of these agencies.
Among the provisions Tiangco wanted deleted were those limiting where the 5 constitutional bodies can use their savings, and those requiring that unspent funds on personnel services be returned to the national treasury.
“You cannot put those limits in the budget because these agencies have fiscal autonomy so there is an assurance of equal balance between the branches of government. It’s obvious Malacañang wants the Comelec, COA, Ombudsman, judiciary, and CSC to be under them,” Tiangco said.
Tiangco added, “Once [the budget] is passed into law with those provisions, if those provisions are there, I will file a case before the Supreme Court.”
In a text message to Rappler, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte simply said this is “certainly untrue.”
He pointed to Special Provision 2 of the CSC budget, which states, “The CSC, through its Chairperson, is hereby authorized to use savings from its appropriations to:
- cover decisions, resolutions, and training information materials;
- repair, maintenance, and improvement of central and regional offices, facilities and equipment;
- purchase of equipment, books, journals, and periodicals;
- necessary expenses for the employment of temporary, contractual and casual employees;
- payment of extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses, representation, and transportation allowances, and other authorized benefits of its officials and employees, subject to pertinent budgeting, accounting and auditing rules and regulation.”
The budget of the judiciary states that the Chief Justice can use savings also for the following:
- maintenance, repair, and improvement of the judiciary’s compounds and other facilities;
- payment of adjusted pension rates to retired Justices entitled thereto pursuant to Section 3-A of RA No 910 as amended by RA No 1797
- Supreme Court administrative matter No 91-8-225-C.A.;
- payment of extraordinary expenses, transportation, and representation allowances, and other authorized benefits for Justices, Clerks of Court, and other court officials and personnel;
- Necessary expenses for the employment of temporary employees for judicial administration.
Tiangco said, “Fiscal autonomy means you can’t put special conditions on their budget. You are saying they can use their savings only for 5 items. You cannot do that. They can use savings for whatever they need. If they want to use the savings for other purposes, they have to ask for the approval of the budget secretary.”
“There’s a saying, ‘The hand that gives is higher than the hand that receives.’”
The lawmaker also wanted the removal of provisions requiring that unspent funds allocated for personnel services be reverted to the General Fund.
Special provision 3 of the CSC budget states, “The amount of P105,088,000 appropriated herein for the Personnel Services requirement of the CSC in filling of unfilled positions as of December 31, 2012 shall be automatically and regularly released, and shall be available and valid for release and obligation only until the end of FY 2014…. Any unexpended balance therefrom shall revert to the unappropriated surplus of the General Fund pursuant to Section 28, Chapter 4, Book VI of EO No 292 s 1987.”
Tiangco said: “That cannot be done. That is the money of the CSC, that can’t go back to the General Fund. It’s a constitutional body.”
He also criticized what he called caps on spending in the budgets of the 5 bodies.
Special provision 1 of the Comelec budget said, “The Comelec through its chairperson is authorized …. to make adjustments in Personnel Services itemization including but not limited to the transfer of item or creation of new positions, whenever public interest so requires: PROVIDED, that any modification of existing organizational structure and staffing pattern … shall in no case increase the total funding requirements for Personnel Services.”
Like DBM's past attempts on the SC
The congressman said he asked for the deletion of the special provisions during the committee hearings and period of amendments but got no response. “They just said, ‘Noted.’ In other words, manigas ka.”
He said the special provisions were reminiscent of the controversy surrounding the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF) in 2011, when the Supreme Court accused Malacañang of trying to impinge on the judiciary’s fiscal autonomy.
Back then, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) sought to transfer P1.2 billion of the judiciary’s 2012 budget to the MPBF, the funds which will only be released to the Court and other agencies once they fill up vacancies.
DBM Secretary Florencio Abad said then that the initiative was meant to prevent the conversion of unused funds, which became a source of corruption in institutions like the military.
Tiangco said: “You will see the pattern. Their goal is to control these [agencies] of government. They tried it with MPBF. Now they are looking for another style.”
He said he also opposed the MPBF and is now just being “consistent” with his advocacy of “maintaining the balance of powers in the Constitution.”
Asked why he was only making an issue out of the provisions now, Tiangco said he was unsure if the special provisions were present in the past budget laws.
“It was the MPBF that I criticized in past years.” – Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com