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Senate approves P1.816-trillion national budget for 2012

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The Senate approved on second and third reading on Tuesday the proposed P1.816-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2012 which reflects the five priorities of the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Voting 18-1, the senators finally passed the national budget after holding marathon deliberations last week and a caucus on Monday where they introduced their respective proposed amendments.

Senator Franklin Drilon, Finance committee chairman, said the Senate-passed GAA for next year is almost similar to what the House of Representatives approved under House Bill No. 5023 last October 12.

The amendments adopted in the Senate Committee Report No. 79 include the restoration of the miscellaneous personnel benefit fund (MPBF) to the respective budget of the Judiciary, Congress and other constitutional offices.

”We have also deleted any restrictions on the use of these funds. However, we maintain the quarterly reporting requirements on the utilization of funds for the filling up of vacant positions,” Drilon said.

He said the Senate also urged the constitutional agencies, including the Judiciary which has allotted over P2 billion budget for unfilled positions, to consider using the unutilized funds for repair and maintenance of their respective offices and buildings.

The Senate also approved the reduction of P448.6 million from the P1.753 billion which the Department of Health allotted for free vaccination to indigent senior citizens who are projected to reach 1,148,964 in 2012. The deducted amount has been realigned to the special government hospitals like the Philippine Heart Center and Philippine General Hospital.

Describing the proposed 2012 GAA as a “results-focused budget that is decidedly biased for the poor,” Drilon said the money measure is aimed at fulfilling the Aquino administration’s priorities in promoting social services, supporting economic growth and reducing poverty.

The agencies that get the biggest shares of the budget are the Department of Education, with an allocation of P202.354 billion, and the Department of Public Works and Highways with P109.633 billion.

The Department of National Defense is allocated a budget of P106.880 billion while the Department of Interior and Local Government gets P92.794 billion, followed by the Department of Agriculture with an allotment of P53.243 billion.

The Office of the President will be given an allotment of P2.595 billion while P8.961 billion is allotted for Congress. The Judiciary will get a budget of P15.075billion.

According to Drilon, the proposed money measure would support a rapid, inclusive and sustained economic growth by increasing allocations for infrastructure services such as irrigation systems and farm-to-market roads “that will spur agribusiness and the roads to tourism destinations.”

He said that critical investments are also placed for activities that would secure peace and order, attain environment sustainability, enable growth and better opportunities in conflict-torn areas, promote disaster preparedness and preserve natural resources.

Under the measure, the Senate also approved the transfer of a P1.764-billion fund for the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Pamana) program to a single fund that will be implemented by the DILG, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Agrarian Reform for easier monitoring.

The Senate also restored some P811 million the House of Representatives removed from the budget for irrigation projects and also realigned P750 million from the DILG to the Local Water Utilities Administration for potable water projects.

Drilon said the Senate is committed to support the Aquino administration’s program of achieving self-sufficiency in rice by 2013. Thus, he added, the Senate restored the P811 million in irrigation projects which was cut and deleted by the House of Representatives under the budget of the Department of Agriculture.

The Senate also addressed one of President Aquino’s priorities, which is to fund environment projects targeted to address climate change issues.
Drilon said the 2012 budget would support President Aquino’s call to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation activities and approved the allotment of P36.2 billion, or 18.2 percent more than the 2011 allocation.

The 2012 budget has been described as biased for the poor with the approval of the P39 billion allocation for Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), the centerpiece program of the Aquino’s administration poverty reduction program.

The Senate approved a special amendment on the CCT which effectively transferred P800 million in administrative cost to cash grants to benefit 61,538 additional indigents.

The DSWD eyes over three million households to benefit from the program next year. Aside from empowerment of the poor and vulnerable and poverty reduction, the Aquino administration’s other priorities include: transparent, accountable and participatory governance; economic growth that is sustainable, inclusive and rapid; peace that is lasting and just, and strengthening the rule of law; and, integrity of the environment and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The proposed outlay for next year is 10.4 percent higher than the current year’s P1.645 trillion budget.

The 2012 budget represents 16.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or the value of goods and services produced by an economy in a given period.

Despite his dissenting vote, Minority Senator Joker Arroyo congratulated Drilon for a job well done in defending the national budget for next year.

Arroyo questioned the P200-billion lump sum which Drilon explained “may refer” to the amount of unrealized budget deficit.

”There is no cash of P200 billion lying around. This is the policy that is adopted by this administration and will continue for several years for greater transparency,” Drilon explained.

Drilon said the House and the Senate have agreed to convene the bicameral conference committee beginning on Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) building in Quezon City.

Aside from Drilon, Senate finance committee vice chairmen Senators Edgardo Angara and Ralph Recto as well as Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano have been named to represent the Senate in the bicameral committee.

According to an earlier schedule, meetings of the conference committee to craft a compromise version will start on Nov. 23. Ratification has been scheduled for Dec. 5-6.

Drilon is hoping that President Aquino will be able to sign the General Appropriations Bill into law before the Dec. 17 Christmas break of Congress. Last year, budget was enacted into law in time for the coming fiscal year.

By Jelly F. Musico -PNA/PIA9-ZBST




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