It seems that we, the public, will not let go of the Mamasapano tragedy. The death of many — not only the police but also the Moro rebels and civilians — has shocked, pained and angered our people. The shock, the pain, and the anger could have been alleviated if those involved in the strategy, planning and operations were transparent enough and accountable.

Nevertheless, even as we continue to monitor the fallout from the Mamasapano debacle, we need to be vigilant on other important issues. Vested interests are exploiting the situation of a beleaguered administration and an unsuspecting public occupied with Mamasapano to sneak in their agenda.

One such critical issue is a concurrent resolution of the House of Representatives (or House Concurrent Resolution No. 10) that ostensibly calls for ensuring and operationalizing the fiscal independence of Congress but in truth undermines transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.

The principal signatories of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) No. 10, namely Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, and Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, claim that the “budgetary policies formulated by the Executive, through the Department of Budget and Management, insofar as they apply to the Congress of the Philippines, threaten its independence, encroach on its exclusive domain and violate the principle of separation of powers.”

Specifically, the House leaders resist the “imposition by the DBM [Department of Budget and Management] of restrictive policies, rules, procedures, guidelines and conditions relative to the release and utilization of appropriations, applicable only to executive offices and agencies, on the Congress of the Philippines.”

They further state: ”The legislative power vested in the Congress of the Philippines is plenary, complete, unimpaired and subject only to such limitations as are found in the Constitution.”

But why is HCR No. 10 dangerous? Why does it violate transparency, accountability and fiscal prudence? To illustrate, take a look at the policies and procedures that the House leaders want to adopt:

“The Senate and the House of Representatives (HRep) shall have full autonomy in determining the appropriations required for their operations. Their budget proposals shall be submitted to the Office of the President, through the DBM, but shall not be subject to the same process of evaluation, budgetary guidelines and standards applicable to the other agencies of the National Government. The amount of appropriations as proposed and determined by the Senate and the HRep shall be included in the annual budget of the National government without reduction, alteration or modification.”

Such demand of not subjecting budget proposals to external evaluation, guidelines and standards abets carelessness, sloppiness and imprudence. Further, the law is very clear about the application of budgetary policies and standards to Congress. In particular, review the pertinent provisions in the Administrative Code of 1987 — Section 11, Chapter 3 (Budget Preparation): “The President shall include in the budget submission the proposed expenditure level of the Legislative and Judicial Branches and of Constitutional bodies, which shall have undergone the same process of evaluation and which shall have been subject to the same budgetary policies and standards applicable to agencies in the Executive Branch.” (Italics mine.)

Section 14, Budget Estimates: “Each head of department, office or agency of the National Government, including the Legislative and Judicial Branches, and including government-owned or -controlled corporations, shall submit his request for appropriations to the Department of Budget in accordance with the budget calendar, format, and such rules and regulations as may be issued in implementation of this Decree.” (Italics mine.)

Also: “The appropriations provided for the Senate and the HRep under the General Appropriations Act and other appropriations laws shall be fully and automatically released, together with the corresponding Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA), by the DBM, at the start of the calendar year, without condition, limitation or restriction.”

Full and automatic release is acceptable. But it is very arbitrary to have an automatic release of appropriations “without condition, limitation or restriction.” The fact is, even the General Appropriations Act that Congress approves contains provisions that are conditional or limited. Again, this smacks of fiscal irresponsibility.

“Unexpended yearend balances of approved appropriations for the Senate and the HRep shall remain valid and shall continue to be available for expenditure until fully spent. Cash allocations to the Senate and the HRep shall remain under their control and accountability, subject to accounting and auditing rules and regulations. Unexpended balances of the NCAs prior to their lapsing may be transferred to an authorized local bank account in the name of the Senate or the HRep.”

The proposal of relaxing the time constraint can lead to inefficiency and laziness in executing programs and projects. In addition, it violates the law, specifically the Administrative Code, that mandates that unexpended balances must be returned to the General Fund.

In short, HCR No. 10 is similar to the Mamasapano issue. The central issue is transparency and accountability. HCR NO. 10 is bad governance; it weakens transparency and accountability at the same time that it abets fiscal recklessness. It does not help Congress at all in truly exercising its power of the purse.

Worse, it is a new way for Congress to regain the old and bad type of pork barrel.

The public must thus oppose HCR No. 10 with the same vigor that it has resisted other actions that weaken good governance and institutions.

Filomeno S. Sta Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.