THE Senate on Wednesday approved the P3.35-trillion national budget for 2017, over the objections of Senator Panfilo Lacson, who said the spending plan was laden with pork barrel, which the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III abstained, saying he supported Lacson’s points.
“But as majority leader, I cannot vote against the measure so I decided to abstain,” stressed Sotto.
The budget was approved by 17 affirmative votes.
Lacson said he objected to its ratification for various reasons, the most compelling of which was the continuing presence of pork barrel allocations.
“Suffice it to say, Mr. President, I know pork when I see it; when I hear about it; even when I smell it—in the lounge, right in my office, and elsewhere, during informal discussions and casual conversations with some of our colleagues and congressmen even,” Lacson said.
Still, he thanked the chairman of the Senate finance committee, Senator Loren Legarda, for adopting his amendments during the bicameral discussions with the House panel.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also objected to the ratification of the budget.
Legarda said the 2017 budget was in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda.
“This is a pro-people budget—one that will be felt by those at the grassroots as it prioritizes rural development and social services. But these funds must be spent judiciously and expeditiously. I urge agencies of government to spend these resources well and address the challenges that lead to underspending or low absorptive capacity,” Legarda said.
“We ensured that it funds the necessary services needed by our citizens, such as universal healthcare, free tuition for all in state universities and colleges, and additional funds for social services. We also allocated funds for free irrigation, additional funds for prisoners’ subsistence allowance, pension for Post World War II veterans and centenarians, among others,” she added.
Among the highlights of the budget is the strong support for education with the increased budget of P8 billion for the Commission on Higher Educationso that all college students enrolled in any SUC in the country will not have to pay for their tuition.
In health care, the PhilHealth budget was given a P3-billion increase so that all Filipinos could be covered by the universal health care program, while indigent patients will not have to pay for anything in government hospitals under the No Balance Billing policy.
The bicameral conference committee also approved additional funds for the Department of Health worth P1.521 billion for the Doctors to the Barrio program, construction of additional health facilities, and medical assistance to indigent patients; as well as the P2.646-billion allocation for the establishment of DoH-Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers in regions which do not have such a facility.
Under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P100 million will be granted to centenarians and additional funding is provided for the supplemental feeding program. Moreover, all 4.4 million beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program will now be entitled to a rice allowance in the form of cash grants.
Under the National Irrigation Administration budget, the amount of P2 billion is provided to subsidize irrigation fees that farmers have long been shouldering.
For livelihood and microenterprises support, additional P1 billion is allocated under the Small Business Corporation so it can provide loans at almost no interest to micro-enterprises; additional funds were also provided for various programs of the Department of Labor and Employment including Employment Facilitation and Capacity Building Services.
Under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Congress approved funds for the Training for Work Scholarship Program/Livelihood, as well as Training Provision for Drug Dependents.
For the Department of Interior and Local Government, additional funds were provided for training and equipment of firefighters, support to the Philippine National Police’s fight against illegal drugs, increased subsistence allowance of prisoners and rehabilitation and construction of jail facilities.
Also approved was the allocation for the combat and incentive pay of the military and police worth P12.1 billion, as well as funding for the Capability Enhancement Program of the PNP.
For environment and resilience programs, funds under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were allocated for restoration of mangroves, which are effective buffers against storm surges and tsunamis.
The chairman of the House committee on appropriations, meanwhile, said the swift passage of the P3.35 trillion national budget was a testatment to the House’s commitment to the success of President Duterte’s agenda for change.
“It is a product of long hours of hard work and relentless consensus building. It is a result of the congresspersons’ willingness to sacrifice for the good of our nation,” Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, the panel chairman, said.
Nograles made the statement after the House ratified House Bill 3408 Tuesday night after the bicameral committee of the Senate and the House approved the measure on the same day.
Nograles said the 2017 budget provides the Duterte administration the resources needed to push its massive programs and projects for development.
“Over P800 billion for infrastructure development for 2017 ushers in the golden age for infrastructure. Since President Duterte has committed to invest P8.3 trillion from 2017 to 2022,” said Nograles.
Moreover, Nograles said next year’s budget ensures that gross domestic product growth rates will be sustained at seven percent.
Next year’s budget will also cover the second phase of Salary Standardization for 1.3 million civil servants. Also covered by the budget is the fulfillment of the President’s commitment to upgrade benefits for all uniformed personnel, Nograles said.
“The budget provides all the resources for the President to reduce poverty, increase funding for the 4Ps Program and Philhealth coverage for the poor, free irrigation for farmers, and free tuition for students enrolled in State Universities and Colleges,” said Nograles.
The budgets of the Office of the President amounting to P19.990 billion and the Office of the Vice President amounting to P428.6 million were unchanged by the bicameral committee..
The OP through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea previously explained that the OP budget, which represents a substantial increase from this year’s P2.8-billion budget, was formulated based on policies and priorities that are aligned with the President’s undertaking to bring about real change.
Deputy Executive Secretary Rizalina Justo said the big part of the P19.9-billion OP budget, or about ₱15.4 billion, will be used for the financial requirements for the country’s hosting of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations Summit next year.
The top 10 departments, agencies, and offices with the highest budgetary allocations are the following: Department of Education, P544.109 billion; Department of Public Works and Highways, P454.721 billion; Department of Interior and Local Government, P148.037 billion; the Department of National Defense, P137.182 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development, P128.301 billion; Department of Health, P96.336 billion; State Universities and Colleges, P58.718 billion; Department of Transportation, P53.346 billion; Department of Agriculture, P45.222 billion; Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, P32.261 billion.
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