(By: Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, 30 September 2020)
Mr. Speaker and Distinguished Sponsor: The Constitution grants fiscal autonomy to the Judiciary as well as to the Office of the Ombudsman, the constitutional bodies like the Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission and Commission on Elections, and also to the Commission on Human Rights, in order to respect and protect their independence from the interference and control of partisan politics, particularly from the Legislature and the Executive.
Unfortunately, their enjoyment of fiscal autonomy is unequal because only the “Appropriations for the Judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year”. (Sec. 3 of Art. VIII of the Constitution).
There must be parity in the enjoyment of fiscal autonomy by the Judiciary and the other independent offices like that of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Congress is not prohibited from adopting a policy of equal fiscal autonomy in favor of the other offices and commissions created under the Constitution. The non-reduction of the appropriations of the Office of the Ombudsman and the other constitutional offices in relation to their previous year’s budgets must be at par with the non-diminution provision for the Judiciary.
The grant of parity is in fact salutary and complementary.
In Bengzon vs. Drilon (G.R. No. 103524, April 15, 1992), 28 years ago, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to define the scope and intent of fiscal autonomy in this wise:
“As envisioned in the Constitution, the fiscal autonomy enjoyed by the Judiciary, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Elections and the Office of the Ombudsman contemplates a guarantee of full flexibility to allocate and utilize their resources with the wisdom and dispatch that their needs require.
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“Fiscal autonomy means freedom from outside control. If the Supreme Court says it needs 100 typewriters but DBM rules we need only 10 typewriters and sends its recommendations to Congress without even informing us, the autonomy given by the Constitution becomes an empty and illusory platitude.
“The Judiciary, the Constitutional Commission and the Ombudsman must have the independence and flexibility needed in the discharge of their constitutional duties… In the interest of comity and cooperation, the Supreme Court, Constitutional Commissions and the Ombudsman have so far limited their objections to constant reminders. We now agree with the petitioners that this grant of autonomy should cease to be a meaningless provision.” (Emphasis supplied).
In the spirit of full fiscal autonomy, the allocation for personnel services of the Office of the Ombudsman for fiscal year 2021 should not be reduced to two billion, four hundred forty three million, one hundred seventy two thousand (P2,443,172,000.00) which is less than its 2020 appropriation of two billion, eight hundred thirty eight million, five hundred eighty six thousand (P2,838,586,000.00) or a reduction of three hundred ninety five million, four hundred fourteen thousand (P395,414,000.00).
Moreover, there is no provision for capital outlay for the Ombudsman in 2021 unlike in 2020 when it was provided a capital outlay of P353,395,000.00.
I am informed that the Ombudsman requested for a capital outlay of P210-M for the acquisition of IT equipment for the work from home services of its personnel.
If the Office of the Ombudsman needs capital outlay for 2021, then this should be granted by the Congress to uphold and sustain its fiscal autonomy.
Accordingly, Mr. Speaker and Distinguished Sponsor, I will join the Majority in restoring the appropriations of the Office of the Ombudsman to its 2020 level or even augment the same.
Thank you Mr. Speaker and Distinguished Sponsor.