By Vanne Terrazola
The Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) which would provide the government P3.757 trillion to fund its programs and operation for this year.
Despite the delay, the Upper Chamber stayed true to its promise to have the GAB approved before the end of January. Fourteen senators voted for the passage of the priority measure. There were no negative votes or abstention.
The passage of the proposed national budget came two months after its approval in the House of Representatives last November, delayed by the controversy on the alleged insertion of “parked pork barrel” funds into the government’s spending program.
The Senate’s approval will pave the way for the congressional bicameral conference committee to finalize the provisions of its version of the 2019 budget, and its counterpart House Bill 8169.
The Senate contingent in the bicam panel will be led by Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Joining her are Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Cynthia Villar, Panfilo Lacson, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, and Bam Aquino as members.
Besides the amendments raised during the plenary discussion, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said senators also submitted their proposed revisions to the GAB over the last four days.
Before its approval on final reading, Legarda presented the Senate’s amendments to the GAB.
The changes include the restoration of the Department of Health’s P16.796-billion fund for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), and the provision of an additional P4.797 billion of the P7-billion requirement for Human Resource for Health Development.
Under the Department of Education’s budget, Legarda said the Senate provided P800 million for the allowance of teachers, which will be distributed during the World Teachers’ Day on October.
Additional allocation for DepEd also includes the increase in its Quick Response Fund (QRF); allocations for School-based Feeding Program, Quality Teacher and Development Program, computerization program, textbooks and other instructional materials, she added.
State universities and colleges (SUCs) would be provided an additional P2.973 billion for the implementation of the system of evaluation and promotion of SUC faculty members, which increase their compensation.
Legarda said the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) proposed outlay for this year was also increased to fund the emergency repatriation of overseas Filipino workers, worker protection and welfare program, employment facilitation program and government internship program.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) was also provided the budget for the construction of building for Emergency 911 Command Center.
Under the DILG budget, the Senate also augmented the Philippine National Police’s (PNP’s) allocation for its Maintenance or Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) to improve its delivery of services.
“We also allocated an additional amount of P59.839 million to provide the per capita cost of additional policemen and P1.81 billion for the procurement of a brand new fixed-wing airplane,” Legarda said.
The Department of National Defense was also granted an additional amount of P48.766 million for its Task Force and Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) for the rebel or insurgent returnees.
Aside from the these agencies, senators also pushed for the increase in the allocations of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Agriculture, Department of Finance, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Tourism, Department of Trade and Industry, as well as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, for their respective programs and operations.
Unlike other agencies, the other departments saw a decrease in their proposed allocations.
Legarda said the Senate reduced the Department of Public Works and Highways’ P555-billion budget “due to the cut in the ROW (right-of-way) and various projects which are not part of the DPWH original submission to the DBM (Department of Budget and Management).
It was recalled that senators moved for the realignment of the P75-billion DBM “insertion” to the DPWH budget to other key government projects.
Legarda, however, said the budget cut “will be partially offset by the increase in local projects.”
Although additional funds were provided to selected airports and seaports, fly fees, purchase of helicopters, lighted ocean buoys, the Department of Transportation budget also suffered a decrease due to cuts imposed on ROW allocation, Legarda said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs’ allocation was also reduced due to the transfer of the P7.5 billion budget for the country’s hosting of the SEA games this year to the Philippine Sports Commission.
Legarda said the amounts slashed from the agencies in the GAB were realigned for the implementation of new laws, among others, specifically:
P10 billion for the Rice Competiveness Enhancement Fund under the proposed rice tariffication law
P10 billion for the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Fund
P18 billion for the initial implementation of the Universal Health Care; and
P40 billion for the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao.