The Senate is scrapping the P53.9-billion fund needed for the government buyout of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) from the proposed P2.606-trillion budget for 2015.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, said there is no point in buying the MRT if there is no guarantee that its services will be improved. The railway has recently been bogged by extreme passenger congestion problems and technical problems owing to poor maintenance.
The Senate, instead, is proposing the allocation of P10 billion to improve the MRT system.
Also affected in the proposed realignment is the P2.6-billion fund for the digitization project of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s P2.4-billion fund for the monitoring of its conditional cash transfer program.
Escudero explained that the Senate’s realignments reached P68 billion, as compared to the Lower House’s meager P4.7 billion, because it totaled everything it wanted changed in the budget.
“We removed the allocation for the MRT buyout for various reasons. One, not a peso will be spent for MRT improvement so why spend P53.9 billion on something that won’t improve the plight of the riding public? And even if we buy it out, it won’t improve the services anyway. It would just go to the pocket of one agency to another, namely LandBank and DBP [Development Bank of the Philippines],” Escudero added, referring to the state-owned banks which took ownership of the bonds of the MRT-3 when it was securitized by the Sobrepeña group, the private entity that owns the MRT.
Escudero said the P10 billion set for MRT improvements will be taken from the off-budget allocation from the Motor Vehicles Users Charge.
Items under the unprogrammed fund in the budget will only be funded if the government will raise enough revenues to finance it while the items in the programmed fund are already guaranteed of funding.
“We included everything that we moved, regardless if it is within the agency or otherwise. The Senate amendments are P68 billion, but P53.9 of it was removed from unprogrammed fund. The total amount that we realigned under the programmed fund is only P14. 4 billion,” he added.
Escudero, moreover, said the proposed realignment included P9 billion for repair and rehabilitation projects in Yolanda-hit areas and the increase to P2.4 billion from P1 billion of the budget for the government’s feeding program in public schools.
He justified the hike on the feeding program by citing that, as it is, the government’s feeding program only covers 100 percent of the severely wasted (malnourished) children and just eight percent of the wasted children.
“There’s a very thin line between the severely wasted and wasted children so we decided to increase it,” Escudero pointed out.
Other big-ticket hikes proposed by the Senate include P898 million for State Universities and Colleges, P455 million for the Department of National Defense, P359 million for the Senate, and P331 million for the Department of Health.