• House eyes increased calamity fund via supplemental budget

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    An increase in the calamity fund, among other additional allocations, will be discussed when the House Appropriations panel kicks off in the Committee debates on the P14.6 billion proposed supplemental budget for 2013, a House leader said Tuesday.

    Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City, Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, made the disclosure a day after the House referred House Bill 3426 providing for a P14.6 supplemental budget to its Appropriations panel on top of adopting House Joint Resolution 7 which extends the validity of the calamity fund, quick response fund and unobligated maintenance and operating expenses and capital outlay provided under 2013 budget.

    Ungab noted the the Department of Budget and Management, Department of National Defense, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the National Economic Development Authority were invited to Congress to brief the lawmakers on the following agencies’ assessment of the damage brought by recent natural and man-made calamities in the country such as typhoons, earthquakes and the Zamboanga City standoff.

    “They [agencies]will brief the Committee on the extent of the damage and the plans for repairs, rehabilitation and reconstruction. We are looking at augmentation of calamity fund, but we will ask for the breakdown of the allocations during the budget hearing,” Ungab said in a text message to The Manila Times.

    The P2.006 trillion 2013 budget earmarked P7.5 billion for Calamity Fund. The proposed P2.268 trillion budget for 2014, on the other hand, also provided P7.5 billion for Calamity Fund.

    “It is expected that there will be contradicting arguments, but I am optimistic that this will be expeditiously passed in view of the urgency and need to provide much needed assistance,” Ungab added.

    Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, the Vice Chairman of the House Appropriations panel, sees a gridlock on whether the P14.6 billion supplemental budget would be in lump sum or will be itemized, considering that the critics of the President view the lump sums in the budget as pork barrel or discretionary fund.

    Last week, the Supreme Court declared Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—the Congressional discretionary and lump sum fund of the lawmakers branded as pork barrel—as unconstitutional via a unanimous 14-0 decision.

    “We will discuss if it is going to be a lump sum or be itemized. Either way, I would have no problem because we have full trust and confidence in our President and the government agencies, but I would urge the Executive to identify the programs needed on the ground, rather than let lawmakers call the shots because the lawmakers will have differing opinions on that,” Evardone said in a separate talk.

    “If the Executive identifies the programs, we will be supportive of its initiative,” Evardone added. LLANESCA T. PANTI

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