The Bicameral Conference Committee on Tuesday approved the P2.264-Trillion 2014 proposed national budget which is P3.2 billion less than P2.268-Trillion original proposal of Malacanang and this include additional funding for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas devastated by the recent calamities that hit the country.
The bicameral meeting which was held at the Senate office was only a formality since the joint congressional panel already settled all disagreeing provisions on the proposed budget during the pre-bicam meet held in previous weeks.
But Senator Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate Finance committee, insisted that all changes and amendments done during the pre-bicam meetings are available to the public and even those amendments that were not accepted.
“As we usually do in any of my hearings in the Senate, all the preparations and works are already being done before the actual hearing in order to save time. But it doesn’t mean that we will hide the meeting from the public,” Escudero explained in an interview after the bicam meeting.
He explained that congress will not be able to pass the budget on time if the joint panel will start the review, consultation and deliberation of budget during the formal bicameral meetings.
Several groups have asked the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives to have the bicameral conference committee open to the public to discourage legislators who are planning to introduce budget insertions.
Insertions are amendments introduced by legislators in the proposed General appropriations Act (GAA) during plenary session and the closed-door bicameral meetings. Those amendments introduced on the floor are acceptable since it is open to the public unlike the bicameral conference meetings.
“All amendments introduced in the proposed budget have been made public, unlike in the previous years, even the explanation are also made public. But still, with or without those demands (make bicam public), we would’ve made it public anyway,” Escudero added.
According to Escudero the congress version of the budget is lower than the original proposal of the executive department because of the deletion of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) of 15 senators and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
There are 28 amendments that were accepted in the final version of the 2014 national expenditure that involves additional allotment to various government agencies including the Senate.
Congress also introduced special provisions that would further promote transparency on government expenditure like the requirement for each government agency to report to Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) the use of their fund to include savings and lump sums.
They also removed the legislators’ participation in the post-enactment stage of the budget execution as well as the lawmakers “discretion” over the implementation of projects.
“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 added.
The bicam approved budget will be submitted to Senate and House of Representatives for ratification during the plenary and transmitted to President Benigno Aquino 3rd for his signature.
Among the major increases on the budget includes
1. The additional P346.11 million for the Senate to effectively restore the budget of its 2013 level and an additional P50 million to cover inflation, as well as additional funds for the Commission on Appointments. In contrast, there will be a cut amounting to P39.632 million for the Senate Electoral Tribunal inasmuch as there is no pending election protest;
2. P5.5 billion additional allocation for the NDRRMC Fund which will not total to P13 billion. This will be used for Aid, Relief and Rehabilitation Services to communities/areas affected by calamities including training of personnel and other pre-disaster activities, as well as repair and reconstruction of permanent structures including Capital Outlays for Pre-Disaster operations, Rehabilitation of Other Related Activities.
3. P500 million in Quick Response Funds for the Department of Health, particularly for the deployment of medical teams, procurement of commodities and financial assistance to hospitals;
4. P1 billion in Quick Response Funds for the Department of Transportation and Communications to enable the immediate rehabilitation of crucial transportation facilities necessary to normalize the situation and living conditions of the people in disaster stricken areas, to be funder partially from realignments within the agency’s budget;
5. P111 million for the Department of Justice – Office of the Secretary to provide for Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses and Capital Outlays for the Prosecution Services, Witness Protection Services, Halls of Justice and the IACAT (The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking);
6. P137 million for Securities and Exchange Commission for rental of offices space in anticipation of planned transfer of the SEC to another office, including furniture and equipment;
7. P20 million for Climate Change Adaptation particularly for farmers under the Department of Agriculture – Office of the Secretary;
8. Realignment of P2.5 billion from lump-sum appropriations for scholarship programs to the budget of 112 State Universities and Colleges which was done in consultation with the Commission on Higher Education;
9. Additional allocation of P1/275,057 million for the University of the Philippines to provide capital outlays to various campuses of the UP System, including the Philippine General Hosptial and scholarships for poor and deserving students;
10. A new special purpose fund, the P20 billion Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program Fund, 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 as well as the recent 7.2 magnitude tectonic earthquake and the Zamboanga siege. 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. schools buildings, electrification infrastructure, academic building of state universities and colleges, historical sites, roads, bridges, government buildings and other infrastructures; airport and ports; and local infrastructure. 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;
11. Additional P3 billion for Disaster Risk and Mitigation Fund and another P80 billion for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program under the Unprogrammed Fund.
12. Additional p206.624 million for Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to fund disaster risk reduction including capacity building and realignment within its budget.