Withholding of P160-B 'for later release' funds is unconstitutional – Rodriguez

Published September 10, 2021, 6:48 PM

by Ben Rosario

Deputy Speaker and Cagayan De Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Friday, Sept. 10 called for an end to the “hijacking” of some P160-billion government funds through the so-called “For Later Release (FLR) system.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pix

Rodriguez said the FLR is unconstitutional because involved funds cannot be released to finance government programs and operations without the approval of the president although Congress has already approved the allocation.

“The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has effectively hijacked these funds by withholding them. The President should direct the DBM to immediately release the money,” he said.

The House official said that even if the DBM and the President has classified the appropriations as FLR, “it is against the Constitution to impound them.”

“These are line items in the 2021 budget law or General Appropriations Act, which the House and the Senate approved and which President Duterte signed. The President’s approval is not needed for their release because they are contained in a law,” he Ppointed out.

In a recent budget deliberation, DBM officer-in-charge Tina Rose Marie Canda told lawmakers the disbursement of FLR funds needs the approval of the Office of the President.

Rodriguez pointed out that the executive branch would be curtailing or undermining the congressional power of the purse if it is allowed to withhold or impound appropriations in the national budget.

“That would render the exclusive power of Congress to appropriate public funds useless. What is the use of enacting appropriations if Malacañang is given the power of life and death over them?” Rodriguez asked.

He stated that while the President, under the Constitution, has veto power over any line item in the budget, he “opted not to veto the P160 billion appropriations and instead categorized them as ‘For Later Release,’ and therefore these funds should now be released.”

According to Rodriguez unless Malacanang stops withholding funds for projects, it is open to accusations of using the release of the money for political purposes by favoring its allies with disbursements.

“The President, who has accepted the nomination of the administration party for him to run for vice president in next year’s elections, needs the support of everybody. There should be no favoritism in the release of FLR funds,” he said.

He added that FLR disbursements at this time would create jobs and income for people in both urban and rural areas.

“It cannot be overemphasized that our people are suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic and are barely making both ends meet. We need to give them jobs and income, and the best way to do that is to spend funds for infrastructure, social services, and other projects. The government should be the biggest creator livelihood opportunities,” he stressed.