MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. defended yesterday the power of the House of Representatives to propose projects using various lump sum allocations in government agencies even as he promised to stop “fantastic insertions” in the proposed P1.645-trillion national budget.
“Insertions are not illegal or wrong but from the very beginning, I made it known that I wouldn’t tolerate fantastic insertions that in the past amounted to hundreds of millions, even billions, of pesos,” Belmonte told reporters.
“But the idea that we cannot amend the budget, I don’t think it was ever accurate,” he said.
Belmonte issued the statement after plenary debates on the budget were stalled for several hours Wednesday night after several lawmakers from the Visayas and Mindanao complained of reported disparity in appropriations in their regions compared to Metro Manila and Luzon.
Many House members also strongly protested Malacañang’s blocking of proposed adjustments in allocations for various agencies and projects.
Belmonte mediated between Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and protesting lawmakers on Wednesday night over their complaints.
In the end, it was agreed that lawmakers would have a say on the lump-sum fund tucked in various agencies amounting to billions of pesos.
“We have to strike a balance between exercising our power over the purse and ensuring transparency and efficiency,” House majority leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales said.
Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco also expressed concern over Cabinet officials’ dictating on where to allocate funds.
“In Japan, civil servants walk behind elected officials because they have the mandate of the people. We know the needs of our constituents, they don’t,” Haresco said.
For Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, House members may be trusted to propose projects that are really useful and can be easily monitored.
Haresco said that while he acknowledges the logic of pouring more resources into Luzon where the country’s main economic activities are centered, other regions also have strong potentials for growth.
He said the country’s long-term sustainable growth also hinges on the development of Mindanao.
Belmonte, however, said the budgets allocated to the three regions have not changed in the last two years.
“Funds from the central offices (of departments) will be distributed outside. These may be in Metro Manila, but these will be given to various areas,” he said.
“You can trace the individual budget for various districts.”
Paolo Romero, Philippine Star