SocialWatch PH applauds the President’s veto; calls to open up bicam meetings to the public | SWP Press Release 23 Apr 2019
SOCIALWATCH PHILS·TUESDAY, APRIL 23, 2019
Social Watch Philippines applauds the President’s veto; calls to open up bicameral conference meetings to the public
Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a network of a hundred civil society organizations calling for transparent, efficient, accountable and pro-poor use of public funds, welcomes the President’s final approval of the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) while imposing his veto power on ‘unconstitutional’ public works budget items.
President Rodrigo Duterte on April 15 signed the P3.662-trilion 2019 budget into law, with direct veto of P95.3 billion-worth of programs and projects from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) which are “inconsistent with the [government’s] programmed priorities”. “The removal of the unlawful provisions in the 2019 budget is a step in the right direction but more still needs to be done to achieve lasting budget reforms”, SWP said.
“In particular, to step up the momentum for reforms, we appeal to the President to deliver a strong message both to the House and the Senate to revive the deliberations on and pass the Budget Reform Bill which promotes citizens' participation in the budget-making process”, SWP added. The Budget Reform Bill was later renamed to Budget Modernization Bill.
“We could have avoided the prolonged budget impasse if citizens were privy to what transpired in bicameral conference committee (bicam) meetings. Rather than rely on media to report the varying versions of what transpired in the bicam meetings from the Senate and the House, the public will now have a chance to come up with its own conclusions if the bicam conference committee meetings were openly conducted. After all, it is the people’s money—taxpayers’ money-- that is under consideration so the public has a right to know how public funds are allocated.” Also referred to as the third chamber, the bicameral conference committee is the mechanism consisting of assigned delegates from the House of Representatives and the Senate that resolves and harmonizes the conflicting provisions proposed by both Houses in their separate versions of a legislative measure – in this case, the budget bill.
SWP has previously proposed several participatory measures in the formulation of the budget which were officially registered during the Senate Finance Committee technical working group meetings and with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) during briefings on the Budget Reform Bill. However, the withdrawal of support of the House of Representatives on cash-based budgeting, a key feature of the Bill, has effectively stopped the legislative measure’s movement in both Houses.
“Our proposals aim to push for greater access to public financial information and data that can easily be analyzed by the common folk. These include institutionalizing mandatory participatory mechanisms in the budget process; apart from pushing for open and transparent bicameral conference committee proceedings on the national budget, other measures proposed are the reporting of budget spending by program, activity and project, online posting of budget documents in a user-friendly, searchable format, among others. These are measures that we want included in a Budget Reform Bill” said SWP explained.
“The budget is the people's money. People’s participation in budget reforms is important because this assures space and hearing for people’s issues and demands in the planning and budgeting processes. People cannot engage the budget process if they do not know how. They need to be equipped to be able to participate in an informed and effective way. It is the government's duty to create a platform to build people’s capacity for meaningful participation in the budget process,” SWP said in closing.
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