“Reclaim the Power of the Purse”, Social Watch Philippines to Congress

Photo: Social Watch Philippines

Social Watch Philippines challenged Congress to reclaim the power of the purse from the Executive at the SWP-Alternative Budget Initiative’s critique of the proposed 2015 budget at the House Committee on Appropriations CSO consultation last Wednesday, September 10, 2014. SWP-ABI also presented their alternative budget proposals for 2015 in the same meeting.

SWP Lead Convenor Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones presented with a summary of the organization’s analysis of the 2015 proposed budget. She focusing on salient issues Congress faces with the current public finance system, such as congressional scrutiny, debt servicing and stark disparities in regional allocations of the budget.

“The main message that we want convey to Congress and the public is that their vaunted “power of the purse” only covers only around 23% of the budget. The majority of the PhP 2.606 trillion budget does not go under congressional scrutiny, with the majority of the amounts allocated in lump sums controlled by the Executive, such as special purpose funds (PhP 379 billion) and unprogrammed funds (PhP 123 billion), and automatic appropriations (PhP 866 billion),” said Briones.

In SWP’s latest estimate, only PhP 600 billion is subject to detailed scrutiny under Congress, covering less than a fourth of the proposed budget. This is a portion of the total PhP 1.3 trillion agency budgets, with the remaining PhP 761 billion in Personnel Expenditures, which does not go under congressional scrutiny as well.

During the meeting, the SWP-ABI development clusters also presented their critique and alternative budget proposals in the areas of education, environment and agriculture, health and social protection for women, children and the persons with disabilities. ABI’s general assessment of the proposed 2015 budget is that there is still limited spending on development sectors.

Rep. Isidro Ungab, Chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations, said that Congress values the inputs that come from civil society and that it helps in crafting the national to attain social development goals.

“We are very pleased that SWP-ABI has kept up its commitment to engage Congress by presenting proposals for an alternative budget. It helps us legislators know more about how to use the budget to better serve the people,”  said Rep. Ungab.

Rep. Leah Paquiz of the ANG NARS partylist also said that they will take up the challenge of reclaiming the congressional power of the purse, and that they will take into consideration the alternative budget proposal submitted by SWP-ABI.

In closing, Prof. Briones said that her analysis of Congress’ diminished power of the purse did not originate from her. She cited former Congressman Edcel Lagman and Chair of Appropriations who presented the analysis in his sponsorship speech in 2007 on congressional control over the budget.

“The power of the purse does not lie in Congress but with the Executive. In theory, the Congress represent the people, so indirectly, the people should hold the power of the purse through Congress. To reclaim this power would be to reclaim it for the people,” said Prof. Briones.

Source: Social Watch Philippines.