by Ellson Quismorio
In a rare move, President Rodrigo Duterte personally submitted to Congress the proposed P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 after delivering his second State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last night.
“To the Senate and House of Representatives (HOR), the budget for the year 2018…is respectfully submitted,” Duterte told Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez while the three were at the rostrum of the HOR’s Session Hall.
This took place after the Chief Executive wrapped up his two-hour speech during the Joint Session of Congress, which also signaled the start of the second regular session of the 17th Congress.
Usually, the proposed budget is given to the HOR within days after the SONA, and by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) secretary. This time, Duterte handed it personally.
The last time that a sitting president did a similar thing was during the term of Fidel V. Ramos.
House Appropriations Chairman and Davao City (1st district) Rep. Karlo Nograles later confirmed receipt of the proposed 2018 budget, which is 12.4 percent higher than the 2017 budget.
In his 37-page budget message, President Duterte said the country needs an “activist budget” to fulfill the longing of the people. He also said his budget addresses the people’s aspiration for “buhay na matatag, maginhawa at panatag.”
Nograles noted that education will continue to receive the biggest appropriation at P691-billion, or P41.7-billion more than the 2017 budget. The bulk of the appropriation will go to the construction of 47,000 classrooms, repair and rehabilitation of 18,000 classrooms, procurement of 84,781 school seats, and creation of 81,100 teaching positions.
Nograles said he is glad the administration is proposing bigger allocations for programs that are close to his heart like the JobStart program and the college scholarship scheme. The Davao solon is a former Labor Committee chairman.
For 2018, the JobStart Philippines Program hopes to provide school-to-work transition assistance skills to 3,200 youth beneficiaries. For scholarship, the 2018 budget has a P7.5 billion allocation to fund 36,977 beneficiaries.
Nograles also thanked President Duterte for pushing two of his pet bills in the 2018 budget message.
These are the National Government Rightsizing Bill and the Budget Reform Bill. “These are legislative measures that have long-term benefits,” the House budget chair stressed.
The President’s proposed budget, Nograles added is on track to realize its “Build, Build, Build Program.” As much as P1.097-trillion has been allocated for this.
Based on his budget message, President Duterte is seeking a 10.3-percent increase in the budget for Mindanao Logistics Infrastructure Network — from P21.4 billion in 2017 to P23.6 billion in 2018.
The Duterte administration is also proposing a P6.6-billion budget for the Mindanao Railway Project Phase I which will cut down travel time from Davao City to Surigao and Cagayan de Oro from eight to two hours.
Once completed, it is expected to accommodate around 120,000 passengers a day in the opening year, and provide a section linking Davao City to Tagum City in Davao del Norte and Digos City in Davao del Sur.
Nograles said he also finds it reassuring that President Duterte is sustaining his war on drugs by proposing higher allocation for law enforcement.
A law enforcement budget of P131.5 billion is proposed for 2018, or 17,6 percent higher than the 2017 allocation of P111.8 billion. Some P1.4 billion of this amount will be spent for the hiring of 10,000 new Police Officer 1 recruits to increase police visibility, and narrow the gap between the ideal police- to- population ratio of 1:500, from the current ratio of 1:551. Another P900 million will fund Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded, the Administration’s campaign flagship program against illegal drugs.
To be able to finance the huge increase in the national budget, Nograles noted the president’s position that the government needs series of reforms that “will fuel the fiscal expansion required to sustain our inclusive growth and development strategy.”
Nograles said that such “fiscal expansions” include reforms on existing tax laws and non-tax like the proposed Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN).
Nograles noted that as part of the tax reform package that is expected to fuel huge portions of the national budget is the proposed removal of several Value Added Tax exemptions on certain products and services to raise an additional P81 Billion.
The government also expects to earn an extra P47-billion from the P10 per liter levy on sugar sweetened beverages and another P87.8-billion from the increase in the excise taxes for petroleum products and automobiles.
And while the tax reform package imposes additional taxes and removes VAT exemptions on certain non-essential commodities, the proposed budget is committed to sustain and even expand programs that hope to mitigate the burden of the poor and the vulnerable.
These include the targeted cash transfer program, Social Assistance for Commuters and Public Transport, Pantawid Kuryente Program, PUV Modernization Program, and National ID/Social Welfare Card Program.