P2.264-trillion 2014 national budget approved
The bicameral conference committee has approved the proposed P2.264-trillion national budget for 2014 sans the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of 15 senators and Vice President Jejomar Binay after holding one hearing Tuesday.
The members of the bicameral conference committee approved the Senate version which is lower by P3.2-billion from the House of Representatives’ version of a P2.268-trillion.
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 would now be ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives before it is transmitted to President Benigno Aquino III for his approval.
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 is 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.
“The 2014 GAA will contain stricter, clearer provisions on reporting transparency and accountability. It’s a question of implementing, the mandate of the Congress and other part of the executive and other implementing agencies,” Escudero said.
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.
Amendments introduced in the proposed 2014 budget include an additional P346.119-million allotment for the Senate to effectively restore the budget to its 2013 level and an additional P50-million is added to cover inflation, as well as additional funds for the Commission on Appointments (CA).
A net cut of P39.632-million for the Senate Electoral Tribunal has also been provided since there is no pending election protest.
Congress has also indicated a P5.5-billion additional allocation for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund which will now total to P13-billion. The money will be used for the aid, relief and rehabilitation services of communities or areas affected by the recent calamities including the training of personnel and other pre-disaster activities. The funds also cover repair and reconstruction of permanent structures including capital expenditures for pre-disaster operations and rehabilitation.
The bicameral panel also agreed to an additional P500-million in Quick Response Funds (QRF) for the Department of Health (DOH) particularly for the deployment of medical teams, procurement of commodities and financial assistance to hospitals.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has also received P1-billion in QRF to enable the immediate rehabilitation of crucial transportation facilities necessary to “normalize the situation and living conditions of the people in disaster-stricken areas.
Other salient amendments also include P20-million for Climate Change Adaptation particularly for farmers under the Department of Agriculture (DA).
A new special purpose fund—the P20-billion rehabilitation and reconstruction program fund—has also been incorporated under the 2014 budget to be used for the rehabilitation, repair, and reconstruction works and activities of areas affected by the typhoons Yolanda, Santi, Labuyo, Vinta, Odette, Pablo and Sendong.
The special fund also covers reconstruction of provinces affected by the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake and the siege in Zamboanga City.
“Its funds shall be released directly to the implementing agencies and/or local government units concerned and shall be used for repair and rehabilitation of the following: irrigation systems; school buildings, electrification infrastructure, academic building of state universities and colleges (SUCs), historical sites, roads, bridges, government buildings and other infrastructure; airports, and ports; and local infrastructure,” he said.
“It shall also be used for the construction of housing units, purchase of emergency relocation/structures, core shelter program and the cash for work livelihood program,” added Escudero.
An additional P3-billion for disaster risk and mitigation fund, and another P80-billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation program under the unprogrammed fund has also been added.