MIRIAM: NAME SOLONS IN SECRET BUDGET INSERTS
She said that apparently, Senate President Manny Villar initiated the congressional insertion during the period of amendment on the floor in plenary session, which renders it regular.
Santiago issued the dare to other solons during the public hearing yesterday on the budget process, particularly on the alleged double entry for the C-5 extension project.
The exasperated Santiago issued the call for solons to identify themselves voluntarily, after budget secretary Rolando Andaya, Jr. refused to release the names of the legislators who made the congressional insertions, during the bicameral meetings.
Andaya also failed to give Santiago his estimate of the total congressional initiatives, after admitting that in the public works budget alone, the initiatives totaled P17.5 billion.
On Santiago ’s question, public works secretary Hermogenes Ebdane said that the total budget cost of the controversial Garcia Ave. Extension from SLEX to Sucat road, including right of way, is P 4.49 billion.
During the hearing, Santiago and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, chair of the Senate finance committee, disagreed on the respective roles of the President and the Congress in jointly exercising the “power of the purse.”
Enrile said that the President’s budget is merely a working draft, and is not binding on Congress.
Santiago said that since the President’s budget is the result of the collective expertise of the budget department, finance department, and the NEDA, it should be respected and, as much as possible, should be left intact.
“Massive congressional insertions embedded in the 2008 budget during the secret bicam meetings changed beyond recognition the priorities observed by the executive branch,” she said.
The feisty senator said that she respectfully dissented from Enrile’s view, “at the risk of being smacked by my elder and better.” The two senators were seated side by side, but were amicable.
Santiago said budget amendments made on the floor are regular, but if made in the secret bicam meetings, they are “devious and suspicious.”
Santiago said that this week she will file her bill called Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2008, with certain features which she strongly advocated during the hearing.
“Congressmen who propose an earmark should be identified,” she said.
Santiago said all bicameral conference committee reports should include a list of all earmarks in the budget.
“To observe the constitutional duty of transparency, the bicameral conference committee report on the budget, including the list of earmarks, should be made available to the Senate and to the general public on the internet for at least 24 hours before its consideration in plenary session,” she said.
Santiago said that every earmark proposal should be accompanied by an explanation of its essential government purpose.
“I am also considering adopting the American law and filing a Funding Accountability and Transparency Act,” she said.
Santiago said that her second bill will require the DBP to create a searchable data base of all government-appropriated funds and their recipients.
In her opening statement at the hearing, Santiago told the TV audience that what we in the Philippines call “congressional insertions” are in the U.S. called “earmarks.”
“Even in the U.S. , the executive and legislative branches cannot agree on the definition of ‘earmarks,’ which we call congressional insertions,” she said.
Santiago said that on the one hand, the U.S. executive branch, through the Office of Management and Budget, defines earmarks as “funds provided by the Congress for projects where the congressional direction circumvents executive branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage critical aspects of the fund’s allocation process.”
Santiago said that on the other hand, the U.S. legislative branch, through the Congressional Research Service, defines an earmark as a provision that specifies certain congressional spending priorities and may appear either in the text of the budget or the report of the bicameral conference committee on the budget.
“The issue of congressional insertions is paramount. Thus, earmarks figured in the first round of the U.S. presidential debate between McCain and Obama, and earmarks are being raised as an issue against vice-presidentiable Sarah Palin,” she said.