Senate eyes 2017 budget okay by Dec

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THE Senate will begin on Monday plenary deliberations on the proposed P3.3-trillion national budget for 2017 and have it passed on or before December.

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According to Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd, they expect the Senate finance committee headed by Sen. Loren Legarda to sponsor the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA) during the morning session on Monday.

Once introduced in plenary, Sotto said, they intend to hold morning and afternoon sessions starting next week and, if needed, they will also conduct sessions every Friday.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd earlier said that passage of the 2017 proposed budget is uppermost on their agenda and they are aiming to have their version of the budget passed on third and final reading before the end of November.

Pimentel said this is to ensure that the national budget, dubbed the “budget for real change,” will be enacted into law before the year ends.

The 2017 GAA is 11.6 percent higher than the P3.002 trillion national budget this year, of which 40 percent or about P1.345 trillion have been earmarked for social services such as education, culture, health, social security, housing and land distribution.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto has called for itemization of Yolanda reconstruction projects in next year’s proposed P37.2 billion Calamity Fund “in order to complete all rehabilitation work by end of 2017.”

Recto noted that the P37.2-billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund, or NDRRMF, which is the Calamity Fund’s official name, “does not earmark any amount for Yolanda rehabilitation despite the huge backlog in deliverables.”

“There is still much work to be done in Eastern Visayas but the Calamity Fund is silent on the rehabilitation deficit, which must be funded,” he said.

The senator warned that the absence of a “Yolanda earmark’ in next year’s NDRRMF might be misinterpreted that government has ceased funding repair of public property destroyed by Yolanda.

Super Typhoon Yolanda battered Central Visayas on November 8, 2013, leaving thousands dead and billions in property and infrastructure destroyed.

Based on an update from the National Economic and Development Authority, among projects that have not been finished, or worse, started, are about 175,467 housing units, 7,233 classrooms, 95 communal irrigation systems and 11 flood-control structures.

As of end-August, only P6.9 billion out of the P44 billion gross Calamity Fund for 2016 had been spent, leaving a balance of P37 billion, with four months left in the year.

Under the 2016 national budget, P18.9 billion will be distributed among 14 agencies to undertake projects ranging from the repair of airports, tourism facilities, hospitals to shelter construction to replanting of destroyed coconut farms and emergency jobs for displaced workers.

Apart from the 2017 budget, the Senate will also make a priority a proposed measure granting emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to address the traffic crisis.

The measure seeks to designate the Transportation secretary as the Traffic Crisis Manager who will exercise overall land, air and sea traffic management and control.

Other pending priority legislation that the Senate will work on include the proposed bill on ending “endo” or labor contractualization, the SIM Card Registration Act, amendments to the Bank Secrecy Law and adjustment of indexation of income tax rates.

JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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