THE Senate and the House of Representatives convened Tuesday the bicameral conference committee to reconcile the differences in their respective versions of the proposed 2017 national budget worth P3.350 trillion.
The bicam was convened after the Senate approved on Monday the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Act.
“I thank my fellow senators for their support and cooperation in the timely approval of the budget. This is the first budget of the new administration and we hope this will be spent judiciously to deliver long-term solutions to our country’s long-term problems, to deliver the change that our people want and need,” said Senator Loren Legarda, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said in a press statement.
Legarda said the 2017 national budget was crafted in line with the 10-Point Socioeconomic Agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte.
A leap in infrastructure spending is one of the priorities of the 2017 budget, given its role in reducing poverty, raising productivity, and spreading the benefits of economic growth.
Among the important amendments introduced by the Senate are the P3-billion increase in the Philhealth budget so that all Filipinos will now be covered by the universal healthcare program; and the P2-billion Irrigation Fees Subsidy in the budget of the National Irrigation Administration so that irrigation service fees will no longer be collected from farmers’ associations.
Additional allocation was provided for state universities and colleges for scholarships for all indigenous peoples and indigent students, especially those under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and for across the board capital outlay increase for all SUCs.
The Senate also provided funding for the one-time cash grant of centenarians in line with the Filipino Centenarians Act; increased allocation for prisoners’ daily subsistence allowance; additional funds for the Dept. of Social Welfare and Development’s supplemental feeding program; increased budget for the combat duty pay of soldiers; allocation for the Dept. of Interior and Local Government’s Masa Masid or Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga; and support for the Judiciary.
According to Legarda, the Senate also proposed the following special and general provisions:
• The Dept. of Agriculture to undertake disaster-resilient agricultural infrastructure projects and practices, and the Dept. of Agrarian Reform to promote the adoption of sustainable farming approaches.
*Integration of educational modules on indigenous knowledge, heritage, biodiversity, environmental protection, disaster risk reduction and climate change in the K-12 curriculum as well as in the curriculum of SUCs.
*Special provision under DENR to identify critical watershed areas, other protected areas, and communities ravaged by extreme weather events as areas to be prioritized as planting sites under the National Greening Program.
*Special provision to ensure that evacuation centers and infrastructure projects conform to resilience standards to withstand natural hazards, and assigning priority to government structures located in areas highly vulnerable to seismic activity for repair and retrofitting efforts.
*Special provision under DILG to issue rice subsidies in the form of cash allowance, equivalent to 20 kilos of rice to be given to firefighters, jail guards, and police.
*Other personnel to be given rice subsidies are the military and uniformed personnel of the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, and Philippine Navy.
*DSWD Special Provision on the 4Ps specifies that the beneficiaries shall be entitled to a rice allowance in the form of cash grants.
*Protecting built heritage, cultural properties, and cultural landscapes from alteration, renovation, or demolition by requiring prior approval by government cultural agencies.
*Requiring the inclusion of the “Protection of Biodiversity” in the development programs and projects of agencies, offices, and local government units.
*Setting a One-year Availability Timeframe of Appropriations under the 2017 GAA to instill a sense of urgency among government agencies in utilizing their budget to the last peso.
Legarda also ensured continued support for heritage, arts and culture, as well as programs for disaster and climate resilience under the 2017 GAA.
“This is a pro-people budget – one that will be felt by those at the grassroots as it prioritizes rural development, infrastructure and social services. We hope that these resources allocated to deliver programs are not only spent, but also spent well,” Legarda said.