By Jelly F. Musico
MANILA, Nov. 26 (PNA) – The Senate on Wednesday night approved on third and final reading the proposed Php2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 with substantial amendments from the House-approved version, including Php96.58-billion realignments from programmed and unprogrammed appropriations within and between agencies.
A total of 13 senators voted for the approval of the Senate version of the general appropriation bill that also include special provisions introduced by several senators during the two-week plenary debates.
No senator voted against the passage of the budget measure,or House Bill 2015, as acting Senate minority leader Vicente Sotto III supported the committee and individual amendments.
Senate finance committee chairman Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero said Php4.768 billion of the realigned fund have been adopted at the plenary while the Php91.82 billion was introduced at the committee level.
He said among the major changes were the deletion of the Php53.9 billion for the buyout of the Metro Rail Transit, and the allocation of Php30 billion in unprogrammed funds and Php20 billion from programmed funds in the rehabilitation fund.
”This is in accordance with the proposal of (OPARR) Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery which said they need additional more or less Php50 billion for next year,” Escudero explained to the media.
Escudero said the Php53.9 billion for the buyout of the MRT was adopted at the committee level and has instead allocated Php10 billion for the repair and acquisition of new MRT trains and the balance for the rehabilitation fund.
The Senate also approved the committee amendments that define the savings in accordance with the ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
”I’m confident it (definition of savings) will be compliant to SC decision,” Escudero said.
The Senate also inserted several special provisions including one that requires the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to provide funds even to the athletes who are not recognized by the national sports associations (NSAs) competing in international tournaments sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The senators incorporated special provision penalizing heads of departments for their failure to submit reports on lump sum funds in Congress and Commission on Audit.
He said heads of government agencies will be penalized if they violated the provisions.
“We provided a penalty of six months suspension or imprisonment of one year or a fine equivalent to six-month salary if they fail to submit the report,” Escudero said.
The Senate also put in special provision that will require Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to consult heritage agencies and other stakeholders for any construction that might impinge on heritage sites.
Another special provision in the budget is allowing National Museum, National Historical Institute and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to use their income to maintain existing heritage sites and facilities in the country.
The Senators also allowed the DPWH, Departments of Health, Department of Transportation and Communication, and Department of Education to use their quick response funds to procure insurance policies to cover infrastructure facilities and other equipment in danger zones.
The DepEd got the largest share of the budget pie with Php323.56 billion followed by the DPWH with Php292.57 billion, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) with Php109.34 billion, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) — Php104.57 billion and the Department of National Defense (DND) — Php99.92 billion.
Escudero also said the Senate maintained a provision that will allocate Php19 billion for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program to cover past disasters, including Super Typhoons Yolanda, Glenda and Mario.
He said the Senate had also realigned Php 2.67 billion under the Information and Communications Technology Office for the implementation of free wi-fi internet in public places. The budget will be sourced from the Digitization Empowerment Program.
“We have restored the House cut on the DPWH amounting to Php242.6 million under the MFO3 or the “Maintenance and Construction Services of Other Infrastructures” and Php1.318 billion under MFO1 under the “National Road Network Services.” In addition, an increase of Php1.130 billion will be provided for the Quick Response Fund of the DPWH to bring it to Php2 billion,” Escudero said.
Likewise, he said, the Senate had also increased the Quick Response Fund of the Department of Health by Php500 million.
The senators also increased the SC’s budget by Php715.36 million for the Enterprise Information System Plan or the IT for e-courts and reallocated and restored Php1 billion of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, particularly for hospital modernization, to be sourced from their budget for Land Acquisition pending the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) opinion on the land swap transaction between the DOJ and the National Housing Authority (NHA).
Escudero said the bicameral conference committee will be held in Tuesday next week to allow the Senate to prepare and finalize its version of the 2015 national budget, about 15 percent higher than this year’s budget, an outlay equivalent to 18.4 percent of the 2015 gross domestic product (GDP).
By sector, social services get the biggest share with Php967.9 billion, followed by economic services, Php700.2 billion; general public services, Php423.1 billion; debt burden, Php399.4 billion; and defense, Php115.5 billion. (PNA)