The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that the hallmark of the U.S. form of government is the principle of checks and balances. Of course the Philippine form of government has been patterned from the U.S. model. This principle of checks and balances as he said is not present in the European form of democracy which is usually parliamentary form. The U.S. form is divided into three co-equal branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary while the parliamentary form only has two: Legislative/executive and the judiciary. This checks and balances is supposed to ensure that no abuse of power takes place in our democratic government. This principle is adhered to by the Philippines which adopts a presidential form. When the Local Government Code was enacted, this principle was adopted except that it does not have the judiciary branch. In order to ensure that the chief executive does not abuse his power or prerogative, a legislative branch in the local government is made separate and independent by providing that the council is presided by a vice mayor and not the mayor as has been before. But to be clear, the legislative branch in the local government is not under or part of Congress but still forms part of the local government unit under the supervision of the president through the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Sanggunian and Executive
The executive virtually cannot act without authorisation from the Sanggunian except on very few instances where the former can act on his own just like solemnising marriages or the appointment of employees to vacant positions. The executive cannot make new appointments if the Sanggunian has not yet created the position, he cannot also disburse money without an appropriation ordinance. If the Sanggunian fails to enact the annual appropriation, the LGU operates on a reenacted budget where “salaries and wages of existing positions, statutory and contractual obligations, and essential operating expenses authorised in the annual and supplemental budgets for the preceding year” (RA 7160 Sec. 323) only may be disbursed. The executive cannot enter into a contract without the prior authority from the Sanggunian. Section 22 (c) provides: “Unless otherwise provided in this Code, no contract may be entered into by the local chief executive in behalf of the local government unit without prior authorization by the Sanggunian concerned.” The Local Government Code is full of other provisions requiring the authorisation. These provisions of RA 7160 aims to prevent a situation where the local executive enters into contracts creating obligations without the proper appropriations enacted by the Sanggunian. Does this mean that in all contracts including infrastructure projects and other procurements the executive needs a prior authorisation from the Sanggunian?
Cebu Gov. Garcia Case
In Quisumbing vs. Garcia (G.R. No. 175527 December 8, 2008) the question of Sanggunian Authority was clarified by the Supreme Court. Governor Garcia of Cebu entered into several contracts and after audit the Commission on Audit questioned the absence of Sanggunian authority. The governor defended her acts saying that the infrastructure projects went through public bidding and the appropriation ordinance was sufficient. Prior authority is no longer required and “becomes not only redundant but also detrimental to the speedy delivery of basic services”. The Supreme Court in this case declared that the executive must first obtain an authorisation from the Sanggunian before entering into contracts for infrastructure projects or other procurements. The authorisation required here may be in the form of a resolution or the appropriation ordinance itself. The High Court declared that: “Should the appropriation ordinance, for instance, already contain in sufficient detail the project and cost of a capital outlay such that all that the local chief executive needs to do after undergoing the requisite public bidding is to execute the contract, no further authorization is required, the appropriation ordinance already being sufficient. On the other hand, should the appropriation ordinance describe the projects in generic terms such as “infrastructure projects,” “inter-municipal waterworks, drainage and sewerage, flood control, and irrigation systems projects,” “reclamation projects” or “roads and bridges,” there is an obvious need for a covering contract for every specific project that in turn requires approval by the sanggunian. The governor’s position did not stand a chance because in the first place they were also at that time operating on a reenacted budget.