Senate unanimously ratifies P2.264-Trillion budget for 2014
Manila, Philippines – The Senate unanimously ratified yesterday the proposed P2.264-trillion national budget for 2014.
Senate Finance Committee chief Francis Escudero sponsored the measure, which is lower by P3.2-billion than the House proposal.
The P3.2- billion represents the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of 15 senators and Vice President Jejomar C. Binay who gave up their pork barrel after the pork barrel controversy erupted.
The Supreme Court later declared the PDAF as unconstitutional.
The budget bill would be submitted to Malacañang for President Benigno S. Aquino III’s signature.
Salient provisions of the budget bill include the P100-billion post-Yolanda rehabilitation fund and key mechanisms to boost transparency and accountability in the disbursement of public funds.
Lawmakers’ Powers Clipped
The reconciled budget version has also clipped the power of lawmakers to recommend projects after the enactment of the appropriations law pursuant to a decision by the Supreme Court.
Escudero also said there will now be stringent reportorial requirements to Congress, the Commission on Audit (COA) and real-time updates on websites on when and where funds are spent by government agencies.
Congress, he said, added a provision imposing the heaviest penalty in the Revised Penal Code, the plunder law, and the anti-graft law for those who will violate any provision in relation to the utilization of savings, realignment, and lump-sum funds.
Escudero also said big ticket items like the P100-billion rehabilitation fund “breezed through” because both houses of Congress – the Senate and House of Representatives – acknowledged the urgency for which the fund would be used.
“We also recognized the availability of the fiscal space from which we will source this fund from,” he said.
The senator said P20-billion of the total rehabilitation fund will be sourced from programmed funds, with the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Health (DOH), state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local government units as implementing agencies.
The rest of the financial requirement for post-Yolanda work will come from “unprogrammed” funds.
P1B For UP
For her part, Sen. Pilar “Pia” Cayetano welcomed the inclusion of a P1-billion allocation for the capital outlay of the University of the Philippines (UP) in the consolidated version of the proposed national budget.
“This is a welcome development for the UP community. With its capital outlay raised to P1-billion from zero, UP would have a fund to work with next year to support the completion and rehabilitation of classrooms, buildings and laboratories, and to establish research centers and other facilities in its various campuses in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,” said Cayetano, who chairs the Senate Committee on Education, Arts, and Culture.
“I thank the leadership of the Senate and House for considering our proposal to augment UP’s funding,” she said.
Cayetano also said the approved version include a P275-million funding for the capital outlay of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), another vital public institution which subsists on meager state subsidies.
“The additional P275 million makes up barely a third of the P900 million that PGH originally requested for its budget next year. This wouldn’t be enough, considering that the poor depend on the PGH for medical care and hospitalization,” she said.
But though she is disappointed over the meager amount, the senator said she is hopeful that UP could find other sources of funding to support the operations of the PGH and public health care in general, such as the incremental revenues from the Sin Tax Reform Law.
“I will file a resolution to look into the status of these funds which were earmarked by Congress when it passed this law, precisely to improve public health services and facilities,” she said.
Aside from the capital outlay for UP and PGH, the 2014 budget approved for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) included a P2.5-billion capital outlay fund that has been itemized for several State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) across the country, and a separate P2.5-billion fund to support scholars.