By Genalyn Kabiling
Malacañang has pushed for Charter change to pave the way for federalism that will empower local government units (LGUs) and give them access to a bigger budget.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque admitted that LGUs could never be empowered if the Constitution, which gives the power of the purse to Congress, will not be amended.
Such institutional change cannot be achieved by mere legislation, Roque added.
“The reality is for as long as in the Constitution the power of the purse over 60 percent of the budget remains with Congress, there cannot be any initiatives that would lead to empowerment of local government units. There really is a need to change the Constitution itself to make this a point and to make this an institutional change,” Roque said during a Palace press briefing.
“Unless you effect the change through a change in the Constitution itself, national government, the congressmen will not allow the empowerment of local government units,” he added.
Under the draft federal Charter, Roque said there would be a 50-50 sharing of all revenues between the federal government and the federated regions. At present, LGUs get 40 percent share fo the country’s internal revenue
Roque recalled that a bill giving funds from the national budget directly to the provincial, municipal and barangay levels drew “so much anger” in Congress.
A former Kabayan party-list representative, Roque said many lawmakers, especially the veterans, found it “unthinkable” that the national government would not have a say on how to spend the national budget. Many claimed that only congressmen know what their constituents need, he added.
“It does not stand a chance in Congress for as long as we are unilateral form of government with Congress providing for the annual budget,” he said.
Meantime, Roque assured anew the public that federalism would not be bad for the domestic economy.
He made clear that a federal government would not require a bigger budget that could result in a larger deficit. He said the national projects would simply be devolved and transferred to the internal revenue allotment of LGUs.
“We will go with the same budget, but we will realign it so that the share of—or the expenses, the budget intended for devolved activities will be given to the LGUs in the form of their IRAs so wala pong expected deficit at dahil wala pong expected deficit, wala pong expected downgrade as far as our credit rating is concerned [so there is no expected deficit and because there is no expected deficit, there is no expected downgrade as far as our credit rating is concerned],” he said.
On the Supreme Court ruling that includes all national taxes in the IRA of LUGs, Roque also believes this would not result in a budget deficit. “It is as simple as transferring money from one pocket to the other. Ang budget po natin will remain the same at P3.7 trillion,” he said.
Roque, however, said he was unsure how Congress would react to such Supreme Court decision.
He acknowledged that such order “effectively limits the power of Congress now to identify projects so all about project identification as far as the national government is concerned.”