Philippine Legislature and the National Purse

Congress has at its disposal a number of tools with which to check on graft and corruption in the executive branch. An example is the budget process, which in theory gives lawmakers an opportunity to review how a particular government agency seeking approval for funding spent the previous year’s fund, and whether it deserves next year’s fund. In reality, however, lawmakers use the budget process for their own purposes. An example would be the Budget Law of 1989, in which lawmakers allowed the appropriation of funds for the vaguely worded “miscellaneous and extraordinary expenses” – a clear sign of their intention to breach their duty to observe fiscal accountability.

Much of the decision – making that goes into crafting the national budget comes from Congress, specifically the House of Representatives where the President first submits his or her budget for approval. The Constitution states: “All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.” Although the final word on the budget belongs to the President, disagreements between Congress and the Chief Executive have not been difficult to iron out.

Overtime, Congress has repeatedly displayed its immense powers over the national purse, especially the lawmakers’ power to allocate public funds for themselves. The PCIJ book Pork and Other Perks tells the story of the budget deliberations for the year 1998, when the country was reeling from the devastation caused by the 1997 financial crisis. Finance officials had proposed an austere budget that would enable government to save P1 billion. After passing through Congress, government ended up bracing for a deficit because the law-makers had given themselves an almost 200-percent increase in pork barrel funds.

The power to make congressional insertions has allowed lawmakers to get away with such abuses. In 1996, news reports revealed how the House committee on appropriation, the committee in charge of budget deliberations, gave itself huge cuts from the budget labeled as Congressional Initiative Allocations, supposedly funds intended for projects to benefit the lawmakers’ constituents. That year, the committee chairperson allocated P3 billion for himself.