The Legislative Assembly (LA) approved the USG’s budget only last October 4, more than midway into the year, later than its expected approval last September 13 due to a call for a more stringent breakdown of the projects coming from the LA’s minority floor.
The call for a breakdown came following the minority floor’s questioning of the LA Resolution No. 2013-0231 containing the budget during the September 13 interpellations. In the October 4 session, Minority Floor leader Vani Altomonte reiterated the concerns about the projects of the USG’s Executive Board (EB) and how the minority wished for a direct re-appropriation of funds from the EB to the Activities Assembly (AA) to avoid the redundancy of activity approval and implementation present in the existing USG structure.
“The USG should utilize what we already have,” says Altomonte. “We already have an AA, so the whole USG should make use of that to make sure that what they [implement] are blueprints of the projects, and it should be the AA that comes out with projects so that the whole USG is felt as one unit and not as individual units.”
The minority floor also argued for a more stringent breakdown of the projects per unit, particularly the EB’s. Certain projects appropriated for the EB offices were questioned by the minority floor during the course of the interpellations from the session of the budget proposal until its final approval on October 4. Over the course of the sessions, the EB’s operational fund was withheld from their offices until the approval of the budget resolution.
The minority was also vocal in questioning the alignment of certain projects with the constitutional nature of the EB offices and their area of responsibility, providing objections for said areas. Notable in the sessions were leadership programs allocated under the Office of the Executive Secretary aimed at providing student leaders an opportunity to bond and to remember their role as USG officers, where the minority through Altomonte argued that USG officers should already know their roles very well before they even run for and even as they manage their respective offices.
The minority petitioned for the relegation of certain projects back to the administration so as to open avenues for different, non-institutional projects. Some projects stated by the minority as best being fit for admin implementation include the Achiever Scholar Fund, Founder’s Day, the repair and maintenance of facilities, among others.
These arguments, however, were received by the Vice President of Internal Affairs Carlo Inocencio, who defended, “May times na inuutusan lang ang admin tapos tayo lang magcacarry out. Inuutusan ang USG na hindi naman talaga work ng USG, work ng admin. Admin is limited in their manpower. By helping the administration, we fight for the rights of the students. We appreciate the USG’s work in helping the administration, and we should demand from the administration to represent the students. If it would be that easy for the administration to demand manpower from the staff [with regard to tasks], then it should have long been done.”
The budget makers
In the USG, it is the Office of the Executive Treasurer (OTREAS) which is responsible for collaborating with the different USG units, as broken down per EB office, college level and batch level units, and the funding that these units need over the course of the year. According to USG Executive Treasurer Kayne Litonjua, the final say on the USG’s proposed appropriations rest entirely on him and his office in coordination with the other offices. Litonjua presents the budget to the LA and the Judiciary’s chief official for approval before being ratified and made available for use.
Before this year’s budget resolution was passed, all members were in agreement, according to Chief Legislator Wendy Peñafiel. “These people who opposed the passing of the resolution were basically asking for financial transparency,” she states. In the USG, because there is no format given in preparing budget proposals, there is often no estimated breakdown shown for the projects. Offices do not typically show how they plan to allot these amounts.
The total budget of the USG this academic year is Php 567,400.00. The Office of the Executive Treasurer (OTREAS) has decided that 55 percent of the budget will go to the Executive Board (EB) and that 45 percent shall go to the college governments after deducting fixed amounts for the batch governments and special accounts. The 45 percent of the total budget for the college governments was already approved in the LA Session last September 13.
Litonjua explains that most of the standard operating procedure is passed down by tradition, and that it was not foreseen that this year’s set of LA representatives would ask for a more stringent breakdown of expenses. “We thought about making a breakdown initially even prior to the resolution, but the breakdown kasi, it’s for future purposes, nagbabago yung amount, so you can’t really be sure so we just give a general breakdown,” he explains.
“The challenge now is to make a comprehensive breakdown of materials and services and expenses. The past few years, yung ginagawa ng OTREAS is basically get the [lump sum], but this time, we wanted to really find out the breakdown.” A majority of 18 out of 19 LA representatives present voted for the breakdown from both majority and minority floors, compelling OTREAS to provide a revised version of the budget.
Litonjua’s office took measures to better align the projects that were discussed during the LA sessions. “From the suggested list of projects, basically may mga projects na nagshift, kasi may mga tie-up, so nilagay na lang under tie-up offices. Our implementation before was we had to get the top 5 projects, based on tradition, so what we get for these projects is really not enough because we have a lot of projects pa e. It’s sufficient that we propose projects that are really in line with our office.”
To help LA better understand the purpose of the projects being approved, Litonjua said that OTREAS provided a column in the budget proposal providing for the specific provision in the USG constitution justifying the nature of the activity while at the same time providing an itemized but still general breakdown of expenses for flexibility purposes.
“The budget is overstated all the time, to give allowance, and is adjusted based on what budget we have left,” affirms Litonjua. He cites the budget for the University Week celebrations as an example: given that the project is approved to merit approximately Php 250,000 as a project of OVPIA, he states that the fund is not enough for the costs to be incurred during the celebration proper held in February. Most of the funds come from sponsorship deals that are placed in the USG’s depository fund.
USG President Migi Moreno acknowledges that the budgeting scheme in the USG has been only passed down but needs to be refocused to be better aligned with what the mission and identity of USG is all about. “Ganoon kasi ang nakasanayan [It’s tradition],” he says. “What happened [over the course of the budget deliberations] was very telling. For me, it was the first time that I saw that the legislative assembly went against the norm. How OTREAS defended the resolution that they crafted was it’s how the budget was passed for the past years. Ito na yung nakasanayan. Ito yung dati.”
Given the dynamic between the minority floor and the majority floor during the course of the LA sessions on budget, he dismisses the notions of the process possibly being politicized. “It’s a step forward to how we want the USG to refocus as well. And I think with what happened in the legislative assembly was very telling. People will say it was very… Masyado siyang na-politika. But if you think about it, the numbers won’t lie. It was a majority decision. 18 to 1 who passed the resolution on the budget allocation and the holding of the budget of the EB offices! So I leave it to people to interpret given that the turnout of votes is 18 to 1. Paano mo masasabi na na-politika siya? ‘Cause there are sentiments na ganoon nga talaga, na-politika, na-sabotage. Numbers won’t lie.”
Delays in approval
Further delays came following the session on September 21, when the judiciary’s Chief Magistrate Rem Serrano claimed that the budget was not run through him nor his office, causing the LA to rescind the motion for the approval of the revised budget until the OTREAS confirmed that the budget was passed through Serrano’s office and confirmed received by an authorized deputy in the Judiciary.
Litonjua said after the approval of the budget that he was glad that the budget had been finally approved. “Wala naman kasi talagang problema, nagkaroon lang ng miscommunication between the Judiciary and OTREAS since nag-OOJT si Rem, because we received approval from the office from [one of Serrano’s deputies]. He might not have just been able to approve it directly.” He adds that there had not been plenty of change in the projects included in the budget resolution as the LA decided unanimously to push for the budget.