P3-trillion national budget approved

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The bicameral conference committee on Wednesday approved the proposed P3-trillion national budget for 2016.

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Sen. Loren Legarda, head of the Senate Committee on Finance, said the bicameral conference report will be submitted to the plenary of the Senate and House of Representatives for ratification before it is transmitted to President Benigno Aquino 3rd for approval.

“We are confident that the President will be able to sign the proposed 2016 national budget into law before Christmas. In a way, this is our gift to the people as we have introduced allocations and provisions that will benefit those who most need government support,” Legarda said in a statement.

House Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd said the House of Representatives will ratify the committee report by next week.

The Department of Education was allocated P411.905 billion to support the implementation of the K to 12 program.

Legarda said all state universities and colleges (SUCs) also received additional funding for the “TulongDunong” program, academic buildings, provisions for equipment and other needed facilities with a total budget of P47 billion.

For the first time, she noted, the national budget includes funding for the payment of the total administrative disability (TAD) pension for surviving spouses of deceased World War II veterans and partial payment for TAD pension for living post-war veterans who are at least 80 years of age as of 2016.

Legarda said Congress is funding, also for the first time, capacity-building programs for implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) budget.

This, she added, is apart from the National Greening Program.

According to the senator, the DENR budget also includes funding for the National Coral Restoration Program.

Legarda said the funding was introduced because, as a maritime nation with 240 million hectares of marine area, protection of marine ecosystems, primarily through massive coral restoration, should be a priority of the government.

The bicameral conference committee also approved general and special provisions introduced by Legarda in the 2016 national budget that would ensure integration of disaster and climate resilience, environmental and heritage conservation and sustainability in programs of various government agencies.

“Critical public infrastructure must be designed and built to be resilient to strong earthquakes, typhoons, flood and other extreme weather events. In retrofitting bridges and other public infrastructure, the government shall give priority to areas considered to be highly vulnerable to seismic activity,” she said.

The senator added that special provisions under the budgets for the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) state that the two agencies must ensure that evacuation centers are built on safe sites and designed to withstand wind speed of 300 kilometers per hour and moderate seismic activity of at least 8.0 magnitude on the Richter scale; utilize natural ventilation and rainwater through the inclusion of a rainwater catchment system; and include facilities for special needs of women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities (PWDs) and such other physical provisions guaranteeing a humane condition for evacuees.

Legarda said the DepEd and the SUCs must integrate the following issues in their respective curricula: environmental protection and awareness, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation, indigenous knowledge systems pertaining to agriculture, environment and cultural heritage.

She added that the Interior department should embark on a massive information campaign for local government units on those issues.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in the conduct of family development sessions among beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program, shall integrate in its program the protection of the environment, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation, including the preservation of the indigenous culture of their locality.

Legarda said the DSWD shall also conduct capacity-building programs to prepare its beneficiaries for the onset of natural hazards.

She introduced a provision under the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) that mandates the agency to allocate funds “for road- sharing activities such as the promotion of non-motorized transport, construction of pedestrian-friendly facilities and conduct of programs and projects that are geared toward improving people mobility.”

There is also a funding for cultural diplomacy programs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA) three major programs, namely, preservation and promotion of Filipino heritage through research, documentation, publication, exhibition and film production; scholarships and grants, such as funding for schools of living traditions; and cultural and heritage mapping projects.

The senator said this is to “strengthen promotion and preservation of Filipino heritage.”

The budget also contains a special provision that prohibits the alteration, renovation or demolition of heritage buildings and open spaces declared by the government or presumed to be important pieces of cultural property, including the protection of the sight line with regard to built heritage, pieces of cultural property and cultural landscapes, without approval of cultural agencies and consultation with stakeholders.

Legarda said in undertaking major infrastructure projects, the concerned department or agency shall be responsible specifically in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of national roads and bridges as they impact on heritage structures or aspects of heritage conservation pursuant to Republic Act 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday night approved the bicameral conference report realigning P14.9 billion worth of allocation under the proposed P3 trillion budget for 2016 to fund salaries, pensions as well as SUCs.

Davao City Rep. and appropriations panel chairman Isidro Ungab announced that the substantial realignments are broken down into four items: P1.2 billion for the indigent senior citizens’ P500 monthly pension, P2.7 billion for the capital outlay of SUCs, P4 billion for the pension of World War 2 veterans and P7 billion for the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) of 2015, which is expected to be enacted into law before yearend.

The SSL 2015 increases the salary of all government workers on top of granting them a 14th month pay or mid-year bonus.

Also, the proposed SSL provides that those under Salary Grades 1 to 11 that comprise around 606,000 state workers (52 percent of the government workforce) will also enjoy a tax-free 14th month pay and performance-based bonus.

“The proposed 2016 budget already allotted P51 billion for the SSL, but it wasn’t enough, so we added P7 billion to cover for the first tranche of releases,” Ungab said.

Prior to the bicameral conference report approval, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was dejected over the rejection of his proposal to increase the capital outlay budget of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) by P10 billion.

Enrile walked out of the Belmonte Hall to express his disgust.

Ungab, however, justified the bicameral panel’s decision to thumb down Enrile’s proposal by citing that the PAF still has a P1-billion fund for capital outlay, on top of its share from the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program.

Also on Wednesday, the House of Representatives deferred its expected ratification of the proposed P3-trillion budget for 2016 to be able to muster enough quorum until next week.
A quorum constitutes 145 out of 287 members of the House of Representatives.

The proposed 2016 budget has allocated P58 billon for the implementation of SSL 2015.

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