Bicam OKs P2.264-trillion 2014 budget
Manila, Philippines – The bicameral conference committee has approved the proposed P2.264-trillion national budget for 2014 without the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of 15 senators and Vice President Jejomar Binay after holding one hearing yesterday.
The members of the bicam approved the Senate version which is lower by P3.2-billion than the House of Representatives’ P2.268-trillion version,
The net cut of P3.2 billion represents the pork barrel allocation of the Vice President and the 15 senators who decided to give up their P200-million PDAF allotment for next year.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the PDAF, or the so-called pork barrel fund, is unconstitutional.
The reconciled version of the General Appropriations bill will now be ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives before it is transmitted to President Benigno Aquino III for his signature.
Solons’ Discretion Removed
Senate Finance Committee chief Senator Francis Escudero said that under the 2014 national budget, lawmakers’ discretion to recommend projects has been removed, in effect, removing their involvement in the disbursement of public funds, “except in the exercise of our oversight function.”
Escudero said the stringent provisions in the budget measure are in response to the public’s clamor for more accountability and transparency in the use of public funds following the P10-billion pork barrel controversy where many lawmakers have been implicated in the alleged diversion of lawmakers’ PDAF to bogus non-government organizations.
Congress has also imposed stricter rules on the disbursement of funds to civil society organizations.
“We have put in place a clear provision for reportorial and utilization, especially in the giving of funds to non-government organizations (NGOs), savings realignment, and lump sums, unlike before. We tried to close the loopholes in the budget where anomalies started,” Escudero said.
The bicam introduced amendments in the proposed 2014 budget that effectively restored the budget to its 2013 level, including an additional P346.119-million allotment for the Senate and an additional P50 million to cover inflation, as well as additional funds for the Commission on Appointments (CA).
A net cut of P39.632 million from the Senate Electoral Tribunal budget was made, since there is no pending election protest.
Congress also added P5.5 billion to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund which now totals P13 billion. The money will be used for the aid, relief, and rehabilitation of communities or areas affected by the recent calamities, including the training of personnel and other pre-disaster activities.
The bicameral panel also agreed to an additional P500 million in Quick Response Funds (QRF) for the Department of Health (DOH).
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) was given P1 billion in QRF to enable it to uindertake the immediate rehabilitation of crucial transportation facilities necessary to “normalize the situation and living conditions of the people in disaster-stricken areas.”
P20 Billion For Rehabilitation
A new special-purpose fund – P20 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction – was incorporated in the 2014 budget.