MANILA, Philippines — Measures to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country should not violate the Constitution, a lawmaker said Friday.
Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman made the statement after Congress approved the bill granting President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to address the COVID-19 crisis. The bill has been signed into law by Duterte.
The law allows Duterte to “direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities (P/A/P) of any agency of the Executive Department, including government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs), in the FY 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act, whether released or unreleased, the allotments for which remain unobligated, and utilize the savings generated therefrom to augment the allocation for any item directly related to support operations and response measures, which are necessary or beneficial in order to address the COVID-19 emergency.”
It further states that Duterte can “reprogram, reallocate and realign from savings on other items of appropriations in the FY 2020 GAA (General Appropriations Act) in the Executive Department”.
However, Lagman, who was among those in the House who voted against the “Bayanihan Act” granting the President with additional powers to deal with the health crisis, said the bill’s provisions are not in line with the Constitution.
“The nine Representatives who voted against the ‘Bayanihan Act’ also want to help the Duterte administration combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but did not want to enact a law which contains provisions offensive to the Constitution,” Lagman said in a statement.
“The generation of forced or contrived savings by impounding, discontinuing, reprogramming, and reallocating budgetary items for projects, programs and activities in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) has been struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Araullo vs. Aquino (G.R. No. 209287, July 1, 2014), which invalidated the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) together with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF),” the lawmaker said.
In the said case, Lagman said it was ruled “that the questionable budgetary procedure amounted to ‘transfer of funds’ which is prohibited by Section 25 (5) of the Constitution.”
Instead, Lagman insisted that Congress should have just approved a supplemental budget or amended by itself the 2020 national budget.
“It must be underscored that those who voted against the ‘Bayanihan Act’ are not against sourcing adequate funds to fight the public health emergency, but any assistance to those adversely affected by the pandemic must be lawful,” Lagman said.
“The Congress, instead of delegating to the President dubious additional budgetary powers, should have passed a supplemental budget, or pending the passage of the same, amended by itself the 2020 GAA to specifically discontinue and reallocate the subject budgetary items to directly address the contagion,” he added.