MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE 3) President Benigno Aquino’s P1.645-trillion “reform budget” hurdled second reading in the House of Representatives before dawn Saturday, keeping intact the huge allocation for government’s anti-poverty program amid criticisms from several lawmakers.
The approval came at 3:04 a.m. after two weeks of plenary debates and deliberations, focused mainly on the lump sum funds and the P21 billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The session turned acrimonious at one point when several Mindanao lawmakers took turns lambasting Presidential Peace Process Adviser Teresita Deles for allegedly insulting Lanao del Norte Representative Fatima Aliah Dimaporo last Wednesday following floor debate on the budget of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP).
P1 budget for Deles
A fuming Davao del Sur Representative Marc Douglas Cagas proposed a P1 budget for the agency while Maguindanao Representative Simeon Datumanong called for a suspension of deliberations on the agency’s budget until the row between Deles and Dimaporo was threshed out.
The General Appropriations Act of 2011was adopted only after the chamber consented to adopt a resolution sponsored by the Mindanao bloc asking Deles to quit her post.
The resolution “vehemently objected to such treatment of a colleague who had no other intention but to contribute to the betterment of the peace process.”
Aquino would be furnished with a copy of the resolution.
Deles, who denied treating rudely the neophyte lawmaker, said she was leaving her fate up to the President.
“I serve at the pleasure of the President,” she said.
Part of big process
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. thanked his colleagues for approving the budget bill, which is expected to pass third and final reading when Congress resumes session November 8 after a three-week recess.
“This is not the end of the process, but part of the big process,” Belmonte said.
Next year’s proposed budget is P104 billion more or 6.8 percent higher than the 2010 outlay, with the bulk of spending going to interest payments of government obligations and for salary increases of state personnel. Interest payments amount to P370 billion in the 2011 budget from this year’s P340 billion.
Congressmen will still get P70 million each and P200 million for each senator in priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or pork barrel. Aside from this, every district lawmaker will get at least P50 million in infrastructure projects from the lump sum appropriation of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
The DSWD’s budget got the biggest leap with a 123 percent increase from P15.4 billion in 2010 to P34.3 billion next year. This is due largely to the P21 billion fund for the conditional cash transfer program, which several lawmakers said got funding at the expense of other agencies and programs such as the village electrification project of the National Electrification Administration and the palay procurement program of the National Food Authority. Both got zero outlay.
The CCT program aims to benefit 1.3 million impoverished families, which will each get P1,400 for 10 months.
Pampanga Representative and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during interpellation questioned the DSWD’s capacity to implement the program, adding that it was “irresponsible” to give such huge allocation to the agency even as the infrastructure is not yet in place.
Millennium Development Goals
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad defended the CCT, saying it is needed to help the country achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of halving poverty by 2015.
“We are committed to achieve eight indicators under the MDG by 2015. So if we don’t accelerate the program, especially in two areas—dropout rate and maternal health care—we are shortfall. If we don’t accelerate, we may not be able to achieve our 2015 commitments under the MDG,” he said in an interview earlier in the day.
Lagman proposed to slash the CCT budget by P6 billion.
The Department of Education will still get the biggest chunk of the budget (P207.3 billion), followed by the DPWH (P110.6 billion), Department of National Defense (P104.7 billion), Department of Interior and Local Government (P88.2 billion), Department of Agriculture (P37.7 billion), DSWD (P34.4 billion), Department of Health (P33.3 billion), Department of Transportation and Communication (P32.2 billion), Department of Agrarian Reform (P16.7 billion), and the Judiciary (P14.3 billion).
A total of P143 billion is allocated for infrastructure programs, while P15 billion is allocated for government’s private-public partnerships (PPP), contained in the budgets of the DA, DOTC and DPWH.
Last week, about 100 lawmakers from the Visayas and Mindanao threatened to block the passage of the budget because of the measly allocation for their regions. In the proposed outlay, Visayas will get only 7.7 percent of the total budget and 10 percent for Mindanao, with the bulk going to the central office.
Cavite Representative Joseph Emilio Abaya, chairman of the appropriations committee, said realignments of the fund of some items were needed, although he added that there would be no major realignments. Earlier, he said some funds could be realigned to the NFA and the NEA.
Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said the amendments discussed by lawmakers in the appropriations committee meeting should be reflected in the budget’s final form.
“That’s why there are hearings . . .so that the committee on appropriations shall be able to make realignments to preserve what is ours. So that we don’t call them insertions. We are not inserting, we are originating the budget,” Rodriguez said.
Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives hailed the budget’s approval.
Iloilo Representative Janet Garin said the lawmakers made sure the budget would work for the Filipinos by exhaustively scrutinizing it.
Quezon City Representative Winston Castelo and Ang Kasangga partylist Representative Teodorico Jaresco said the 2011 outlay would be a key tool to stir the country into growth and deliver services to the people.
Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone and Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara said the budget would address the problem of poverty, even as Angara stressed that “slight improvement may be desirable in some areas like state universities and rural electrification.”
“This year's budget reflects Aquino’s commitment to lead the country to the right path of governance—a caring government, accountable and sensitive to the needs of the people. The CCT although subject to loopholes is a signature of Aquino’s campaign to reduce poverty,” said Representative Winnie Castelo.
“Speaker Belmonte's leadership of compromise and diplomacy led to the approval of the budget in the most expeditious manner in recent years,” said Castelo.
Asked if the budget would address the country’s pressing needs, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said: “Time will tell, but we have to give it a chance.”
Some lawmakers, however, were not happy with the proposed budget.
“It is a deformed not a reform budget. Priorities are skewed and transparency is lost in the astronomical lump sums,” Gabriela partylist Representative Luz Ilagan said.
For Nueva Ecija Representative Carlos Padilla, the lump sums negated the Aquino administration’s call for transparency.
Negros Occidental Representative Ignacio Arroyo echoed Padilla’s statement, saying “where’s transparency when you have lump sums everywhere.”
Zambales Representative Ma. Milagros Magsaysay, meanwhile, said the process of approving the budget simply showed that the “administration is stubborn and not receptive to constructive amendments that will help uplift the Filipino people.”
Bayan Muna partylist Representative Neri Colmenares said that what Malacanang did was not zero budgeting “but a budget based on largesse and patronage for the loyal and the lucky.”
With Michael Lim Ubac, Inquirer