This ongoing word war over the 2019 national budget seems to have gotten out of hand and by the looks of it, it is no longer the House of Representatives but Malacanang that holds the power of the purse.
At least, that’s what I am getting from reading the tirades spilled by the “PR” and social media machinery that is now hell bent on demonizing House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya.
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Because, the way some voices on Facebook explain it, it seems that if President Duterte or his cabinet can actually dictate what the national budget should contain or should not contain regardless of what Congress has to say.
If so, then perhaps we should see the country ruled by Executive Orders as it once was. That would simplify things, wouldn’t it?
After all, the 1987 Constitution is already on the way out in the minds of some people and they think that a Philippines under a parliamentary/federal form of government is just a few breaths away seeing the light of day.
But even if we WERE under a federal and parliamentary form of government, checks and balances would just take on another form such as a shadow cabinet as well as a question hour where members of the ruling party would be asked to account for their actions or policies would be debated.
But alas! It seems some of the President’s alter egos would have none of that.
I have yet to confirm it through my own sources in Malacanang but word is already out that Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno are “fueling” the flame war directed against the leadership of the House of Representatives.
Of course, it is easy to deny that Dominguez and Diokno would pay members of the press to come out with slanted news items and opinion columns that would bring up old issues against Arroyo and Andaya.
Looking at how news items favorable to the two tend to crop up in a very familiar way makes it hard to believe that deceptive and underhanded tactics are being employed. Most especially considering that the attacks against Arroyo and Andaya are coming from Facebook pages as well as websites associated with Camarines Sur Congressman Lray Villafuerte — a known ally of both Dominguez and Diokno.
Then there is Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo who defended Diokno’s absence at the House hearing on an alleged case of conflict of interest arising from Diokno’s in laws supposedly cornering billions of pesos of government contracts. If true, it would be brazen defiance against the President’s own standard for avoiding conflict of interest where he forbade anyone in the executive branch from entertaining transactions with any of his relatives.
Panelo, and not President Duterte, was the one who came out and said that Diokno was ordered not to attend the hearing on conflict of interest.
In the latest turn of events, Panelo seemed to be speaking for Diokno and not President Duterte on the issue of releasing a scheduled pay hike for government workers.
A couple of days ago, President Duterte promised teachers that he would have the pay hike of teachers released.
“I was talking to (Budget Secretary Benjamin) Diokno at the year-end to find out how things could be (afforded). I told him I prioritized soldiers because I know what will happen,” Duterte said during the groundbreaking of the Gregorio National High School in Bukan, Bulacan.
“Kayo ang isusunod ko this year (You will be next this year),” he added.
And yet instead of cleaving to the promise made by President Duterte, Panelo echoed the line of argument taken by Diokno against House Majority Leader Andaya.
“The one holding hostage would be Congress, not [the] executive department,” said Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Monday, January 14, during a press briefing.
Andaya had already previously pointed out that there are items in the 2018 budget that Diokno can use for the salary increase.
Andaya cited allocations in the 2018 reenacted budget that can be used for the salary increase. He said there is a total of P100 billion allocated for salary increases under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund.
“Common sense for the Budget Secretary to use this amount to pay for salary increases due our civil servants. Besides, who says we need to use the full amount during the reenacted period? That budget is for the entire year. Halos isang buwan lang mahigit ang tatagal ng reenacted period o baka mas maikli pa. Ito lang ang kailangang gastusan ng DBM
Clearly, it is not congress taking it hostage but Diokno.
Panelo should consider the side of Rep. Andaya, a budget secretary for many years, that the grant of salary increase can and had been done in the past.
President Digong has ALREADY PROMISED the release of the salary increase and ordered it to be given without delay.
But it seems Panelo has taken the cudgels for Diokno and not the President.