I got home at about past 3:00 this morning from the House of Representatives. These past two weeks have been hectic. They (the Representatives) were on a deadline to pass the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2014. There were about 5 to 6 Agencies / Departments / Offices’ budgets heard and debated on the floor everyday! With sessions ending past midnight many days.
And the last day (yesterday), ended at about 3 AM (with the GAA passing on second reading at about 2:16AM).
Passing the budget is one of the main jobs of the House of Representatives. The GAA comes from the House. The Executive gets ready the budget and then defends it on the floor (via a sponsor who is a Congressman because no one else can speak on the floor of the House), and it becomes the GAA when passed.
The House also has the power to monitor the funds and get reports about it. So, financial stewardship and accountability is really one of the main jobs of this Legislative arm (they cannot increase budgets, but they can slash it).
So why were they rushing? Two weeks to discuss a 2 TRILLION budget? During the hearings only a handful of Congressmen were actually there to interpellate (only on the last day did I see a full house, because they had to vote). If they really understood their role and mandate, they would all have been present at all times. And would scrutinize the budget. Whether you are in the Majority, Minority or Independent Bloc, we are talking about the people’s money! Especially in this day and age of Napoles. They all should have taken their time with this.
And if that meant going over the two week self imposed deadline, then why not! It is not even October yet. 2014 is 3 months away. There is more than enough time.
There were only a few regular interpellators and I give them massive kudos for the work they did. They researched, stood on the floor for hours questioning and finding out the nuances of the budget. While the rest of the 200+ weren’t even there. Good job to my boss Cong. Lito Atienza (see him in the picture in action), Cong. Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada (in the infamous video of him fighting with Cong. Belmonte because Belmonte was railroading the budget of ARMM), Cong. Terry Ridon of Kabataan, Cong. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Cong. Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers.
If the Party-List people didn’t speak up, the budget would have passed in one day. That’s how silent all the rest were. 300+ Congressmen. If they all just had one question per Agency, it would have stretched longer than 2 weeks.
There was also a time when leftists made a scene during the debates (twice, I think). And they were sent out. And another time (last night) a Congressman went up to interpellate (from Magdalo) and instead proposed to his girlfriend! Now, I think it is sweet, and I am all for true love. But it was neither the time nor the place for it.
The mandate to take care of the people’s money is not a joke. And as their job, they should have done it well, and done it first. There are many other days where you can propose.
At 2:16 AM, we went back to our office to listen via the in house speakers. Had some Coke and chicharon. And apparently, the Congressmen had some too. Chicharon, I mean. In the form of pork.
The Gabriela Congresswoman has a very good last minute amendment scrapping pork and all the lump sums and putting them in good places where they will be used properly. But it wasn’t accepted by the Majority. They decided to keep their pork (yes, it’s still there) but in a different form.
They will still give their projects to the Speaker, for his approval and his recommendation to the Agencies. So what changed? Maybe they forget that the people are angry. And they don’t want that kind of power in Congress.
The power of Congress is to legislate. And from the past two weeks, I saw that majority of Congress is not up to doing their basic mandate. Sad. Good thing there are a few good men trying their best to bring back the power of the purse, and the integrity of the House. We need more people like them.
Congratulations on passing the GAA. I just wish it was throughly questioned, defended and debated upon. And I also wish that it will be monitored, and not just forgotten as the approved projects come rolling in.
[Cong. Lito Atienza is against the pork barrel in all its forms and will NOT be partaking of it. We (I am part of his team) will not be sending a list of projects. We will continue to monitor the budget, make laws and speak our mind. Just as we have been mandated to do.]