JANUARY 5, 2010 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo will exercise her power to impound certain portions of the proposed P1.542-trillion 2010 national budget whenever necessary, Malacañang said yesterday.

The bicameral conference committee of the proposed 2010 General Appropriations Act (GAA) has reportedly inserted a provision that would make it difficult for the President to impound certain parts of the budget, particularly their pork barrel allocations.

Presidential economic spokesman Gary Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo would use her power to impound despite restrictions that may have been inserted in the proposed budget.

“The President still has that power to impound despite any restrictions that may have been placed upon her by this Congress. If she deems it necessary, urgent, she would certainly exercise that power,” Olivar told a news briefing.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said impounding is practiced when revenues are scarce and could not fund some of the provisions in the budget.

“In essence, it’s important to remember that the budget is just spending authority. What is more important are revenues that would support that authority to spend,” Andaya said.

“In the end, fiscal discipline will be the guiding principle when the President prepares her veto message,” he added.

One of the provisions usually vetoed is the reduction of appropriations for debt service.

Andaya said impounding is not a “totally conscious” move, and is dependent mainly on the availability of funds. He said the government has revised its deficit targets for the year several times because of poor collections caused by the global financial crisis.

He said this is not the first time that a provision to make impounding difficult for the President was inserted in the GAA.

Olivar said the government would likely raise power rates if it cannot collect enough revenues for debt payments.

“If we do not appropriate for debt service, then what happens by the end of the year? Unless we come up with the additional revenues or the cut in expenses to cover that amount, automatically, we’re going to higher power rates,” he said.

“So exercising her power in a scenario like that is clearly an exercise of fiscal responsibility that she would owe to our country. This is just one example. If there are other examples that would require our attention in this manner, you can be sure that the President will act with the usual decisiveness,” he added.

Olivar said lawmakers should also explain to the public why their pork barrel allocations should not be suspended when revenues are scarce.


(STAR) By Jess Diaz - They want to have their cake, or to put it more correctly, “pork,” and eat it too.

After diverting P65 billion in debt payments for this year to their pork barrel, President Arroyo’s congressional allies have voted to ban her from “impounding,” or “hijacking,” as some of them put it, those diverted funds.

In its report on the final version of the proposed P1.541-trillion national budget, the Senate-House conference committee included a special provision entitled, “Prohibition against impoundment of appropriations.”

Senate finance committee chairman Edgardo Angara and his House counterpart Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, both staunch allies of Mrs. Arroyo, jointly chaired the conference panel.

The special provision provides that “the President shall release all budgetary allocations provided for in the GAA (General Appropriations Act)” except in two instances.

The first is, “When the President submits a proposal to Congress to impound or permanently withhold the release of a particular appropriation item and Congress does not act on the proposal within 45 calendar days from its submission to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, unless during the said period, the Congress denies or rejects the proposal by a vote of a simple majority of the quorum.”

The 45-day period would not include periodic vacations of lawmakers.

The second instance is, “When the President temporarily defers the release of a particular appropriations item upon prior written notice to Congress, through the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, which deferment shall subsist unless Congress stops or rejects the deferment in a concurrent resolution adopted by a simple majority of the quorum.”

As far as veteran lawmakers could remember, this was the first time such an anti-impoundment provision was included in the proposed annual budget law.

If President Arroyo does not veto or reject the prohibition, it will cover her since she will use the 2010 budget until June 30 this year, when her term expires.

It will also apply to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, President Manuel Villar, President Gilberto Teodoro Jr., or whoever would be elected Mrs. Arroyo’s successor, since he will inherit half of this year’s budget.

A member of the Angara-Cua conference committee told The STAR that Mrs. Arroyo should feel slighted by the decision of her allies to prohibit her from hijacking funds now that she is leaving office in less than six months.

“Are they conveying the message that she has been impounding funds for her political and personal purposes?” asked a lawmaker who did not want to be named.

On the other hand, a congressman-supporter of presidential survey leader Senator Aquino said the special provision is directed more against Mrs. Arroyo’s successor than against her.

“Angara, Cua and members of their panel, together with a majority of senators and congressmen have no quarrel with the President. She has been releasing their pork barrel funds. There is no reason for them to prohibit her from impounding appropriations. It is the diehard members of the opposition who have reason to do that,” he said.

“If Noynoy wins on May 10, and most likely he will based on surveys, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies will be in the opposition. President Noynoy will think twice before releasing all those billions in additional pork barrel funds they have hidden all over the budget. They now want to handcuff him from impounding those funds,” he said.

The President has been releasing the pork barrel funds of senators and congressmen, except those of militant party-list representatives led by Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna and some opposition senators.

Two senators – Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal – have not been availing themselves of P200 million in annual pork barrel allocations. In the proposed 2010 budget, Lacson and Madrigal made sure that their combined P400 million was deducted from the outlay.

Thus, the Senate version of Mrs. Arroyo’s budget proposal was P400 million lower. The reduction was reflected in the Angara-Cua conference committee report.

The report, together with its approval on Dec. 18 by the Senate and the House, was defective, according to Sen. Francis Escudero, since only Angara signed it for the eight senators who sat in the conference panel.

A majority of the eight and a majority of the 17 congressmen-conferees should have signed it for the document and its ratification to be valid, Escudero said.

On the part of the House, Cua and 11 other members affixed their signatures on the report.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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