Lawmaker defends increasing unprogrammed funds

Lawmaker defends increasing unprogrammed funds

A LEADER in the House of Representatives has said Congress had the authority to increase the unprogrammed funds in the P5.768 trillion national budget for this year by P450 billion, adding it did not violate the Constitution.

“Only the programmed appropriations are subject to Article VI, Section 25 (1) of the Constitution, or the prohibition against increasing appropriations recommended by the President,” House Ways and Means Chairman and Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente “Joey” S. Salceda said in a statement late Tuesday, citing a letter from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“In short, the DBM said Congress can increase the unprogrammed appropriations as proposed.”

His comments were made public after Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman said that President Ferdinand R. Marcos. Jr. should have vetoed the P450-billion increase on the pretext that it is illegal after the DBM only recommended the P281.9 billion total amount in these funds.

Unprogrammed appropriations are funds on standby in case of additional priority programs or projects when revenue collection exceeds targets.

Under the Constitution, the lawmakers are barred from boosting appropriations recommended by the President “for the operation of the government as specified in the budget.”

Mr. Lagman said the unprogrammed funds could be used as a “sanctuary of partisan and pet projects.”

Citing Christian S. Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Mr. Salceda said the provision was meant to ensure that the budget does not “put the government in debt or in deficit.”

“The very conditions placed on the Unprogrammed Appropriations are designed in such a manner that no additional deficit will be incurred,” he said.

Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman earlier said she did not see a problem with the increase, noting that unprogrammed funds may only be used in particular cases of excess revenue.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin “Koko” D. Pimentel, III has said he would challenge the boosted funds before the Supreme Court.

“Ultimately, once a case is filed in the Supreme Court, the court will decide on the matter,” Mr. Salceda said. “I expect it to decide as it has always done so: with the maximum liberality and presumption of regularity granted to Congress in the exercise of its exclusive powers.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez