VOTING 17-2-1, the Senate has ratified the bicameral conference report that approved the proposed P3.35 trillion national budget for 2017 which aims at implementing the Duterte administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda.
The voting translated to 17 senators approving the bicam report while Senators Panfilo Lacson and Win Gatchalian voted “no.” Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III abstained.
The ratification of the bicam report on the 2017 national appropriations took place three days before Congress goes on a month-long break.
“This is a pro-people budget—one that will be felt by those at the grassroots as it prioritizes rural development and social services. But these funds must be spent judiciously and expeditiously,” said Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance.
“I urge agencies of government to spend these resources well and address the challenges that lead to underspending or low absorptive capacity,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto is pleased that both chambers carried his amendments to the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Bill (GAB). “Foremost is the P8 billion Free College Tuition Fund that is lodged with the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).”
“This will exempt from basic matriculation close to a million state university and college students next year. Also included is the P397 million additional building and equipment fund for SUCs, thus raising their budget for capital outlays to P9.68 billion,” he said.
“We look forward to the pledge made by those who will execute the budget to promptly release the allocations in the proper manner because budget delayed is development denied,” said Recto.
Legarda said Congress has also allocated funds for free irrigation, additional funds for prisoners’ subsistence allowance, pension for Post-World War II veterans and centenarians, among others.
Among the highlights of the budget is the strong support for education with the increased budget worth P8 billion for the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) so that all college students enrolled in any SUC in the country will not have to pay for their tuition.
The budget for SUCs was also increased to provide additional funds for scholarship and capital outlay for all SUCs; while increased allocation for the Department of Education (DepEd) is intended for site development of public schools and to increase teachers’ cash or chalk allowance from P1,500 to P2,500, which they will use to purchase classroom supplies like chalk, erasers and forms.
For healthcare, P3 billion increase in the PhilHealth was approved so that all Filipinos will now be covered by the universal healthcare program, while indigent patients will not have to pay for anything in government hospitals under the No Balance Billing (NBB) policy.
The bicam also approved additional funds for the Department of Health (DoH) worth P1.521 billion for the Doctors to the Barrio program, construction of additional health facilities, and medical assistance to indigent patients; as well as the P2.646 billion allocation for the establishment of DoH Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers in regions which do not have such facility.
Under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), P100 million will be granted to centenarians and additional funding is provided for the supplemental feeding program. Moreover, all 4.4 million beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) will now be entitled to a rice allowance in the form of cash grants.
Under the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) budget, the amount of P2 billion is provided to subsidize irrigation fees that farmers have long been shouldering.
For livelihood and microenterprises support, additional P1 billion is allocated under the Small Business Corporation so it can provide loans at almost no interest to microenterprises; additional funds were also provided for various programs of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) including Employment Facilitation and Capacity Building Services.
Under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Congress approved funds for the Training for Work Scholarship Program/Livelihood, as well as Training Provision for Drug Dependents.