Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The discussion on the "double entries" in the 2008 National Budget is predictably leading to the issue of congressional insertions, or the practice by privileged legislators of inserting in the proposed national budget appropriations for their pet projects. Note that I say "privileged legislators" because not all senators and congresmen have the know-how and influence to accomplish such a feat. Most especially insertions that reach hundreds of millions or even billions of pesos.

It is a practice that I assume has been in place even before I became congressman. At one point, talk about a "Leadership Fund" circulated, a fund which was supposedly tapped into by the political leadership to dispense patronage.

Technically, congressional insertions are within the mandate of the legislators, since the House of Representatives is the institution tasked by the Constitution to exercise the power of appropriations with the Senate concurring.

It is an ideal system, in that the House of Representatives are the direct representatives of the people. Ideally, they know the needs of the districts they represent, therefore, they can give inputs to the budget process which would ensure that their districts have a fair share of the national government coffers.

But the problem begins when the insertions take the nature of tools of politics instead of tools of development. Or when the insertions accrue to the personal interest of the one doing the insertion rather the interest of the nation.

Owing to the present budget practices of our government, congressional insertions will be difficult to avoid or prevent, especially because of the lump sum items in the budget. Lump sum items in the budget represent programs or projects in general terms, instead of being listed down specifically.

One example is the lump sum item in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways which simply says "Others" with an appropriation of P 100,000,000.00 (2008 General Appropriations Act-Department of Public Works and Highways, under their Locally Funded Projects). While other items in the budget specify the name and location of the road, this lump sum item will be spent purely at the discretion of the agency.

The lump sum items run into billions of pesos and is the source of the congressional insertions and discretionary spending of the executive department. At the pre-approval stage the lump sum budget is huge, but after approval, it shrinks . This is because the congressional insertions are taken from these lump sum items.

But focusing on the congressional insertions per se will not lead to budget transparency. We must look into the source of the insertions. Since the total budget proposed by the President cannot be increased by Congress, the insertions may only be achieved either by reducing or cutting from the budgets of the agencies or tapping into the lump sum items.

These lump sum items, if not tapped by Congress in the form of insertions, become billion-peso pork barrels of the Executive department particularly the department secretaries. Seen from a different perspective, the insertions may become tools of transparency if the funds are appropriated to specified projects instead of being placed in non-specific budget items such as lump sum appropriations.

But that is not to say that I am defending congressional insertions. What I believe in is that instead of submitting lump sum appropriations, the budget proposal should contain specified projects and programs which are aligned with the overall economic and development strategies of government.

Lump sum items are prone to political projects which are incongruent with development plans or geared towards personal interests.

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