VOTING 13-0, the Senate approved on third and final reading the P2.6-trillion proposed national budget for 2015.
Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the finance committee, said they deleted the phrase “at any time” in the definition of savings as proposed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.
When acting Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III questioned Escudero on the definition of “savings” the Senate will adopt, he said they deleted the said phrase to ensure that the bill’s intention is clear.
Santiago earlier said the redefinition of savings introduced by the House of Representatives was unconstitutional for being vague and too broad. In a privilege speech, she said the redefinition diminishes the congressional power over the purse.
Escudero also said they included in the budget a provision that would penalize the head of agency for failure to give a report on their use of lump sum funds.
“As soon as they avail of it, we will see it. We provided a penalty of six months suspension or imprisonment of one year, or a fineequivalent to six months salary if they fail to submit,” he added.
In the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said lawmakers would pass the P23 billion supplemental budget that the Palace requested before Congress goes on Christmas break.
“It is not with us yet, I hope we will be able to file it on Monday and certainly hope to approve it before we go on Christmas break,” Belmonte told reporters at the sidelines of Wednesday’s meeting of members of the House of Representatives and the Joint Foreign Chambers and Philippine Business Groups at Batasan Complex in Quezon City.
Belmonte also said both the House and the Senate are scheduled to approve into law the P2.606 trillion 2015 budget before the year ends.
Malacañang sought a supplemental budget for the reconstruction of infrastructure devastated by super typhoon Yolanda and other projects such as the rehabilitation of the Light Rail Transit Lines 1 and 2.
Belmonte said Congress needs to pass the supplemental budget on time to ensure that the government would continue the implementation of several government projects funded under the
Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), parts of which were declared unconstitituional by the Supreme Court.
“Some of DAP projects were already completed but were not paid, so those are among the items included. Some of them were about to be completed when the Supreme Court stopped [the DAP] and we should complete those,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said the passage of the supplemental budget would not be railroaded and would go through the regular legislative process.
He also brushed aside allegations of House deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares that the supplemental budget is another form of pork barrel to reward Palace allies in the House of Representatives this Christmas.
He said he was not surprised that Colmenares, a staunch critic of the administration, would make such a statement.
Belmonte also maintained that the national budget for next year was not loaded with pork barrel, explaining that the Supreme Court only barred lump sump appropriations in its decision against the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“A lot of projects of congressmen are there but were listed. What the Supreme Court said in its decision against PDAF was that there was no indication where these would be used,” Belmonte said.
“The Supreme Court itself said there’s absolutely nothing wrong. It is the function and duty of Congress to itemize projects and as you can see from our former two-volume budget, we have now a six-volume budget, full of itemization. I hope you can read what these projects are,” he added.
In approving the 2015 budget, senators said the spending plan would spur development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which had a 24 percent increase in its allocation to P24 billion, and provide accessible health services throughout the country.
Escudero noted that as the ARMM prepares for its transition to the Bangsamoro regional government, the Department of Public Works and Highways received P10.642 billion to build roads and bridges, water systems, ports, lighthouses and harbors and flood control systems there.
He said the money earmarked for various ARMM programs amounted to P12.394 billion, which will be used for the agency’s administrative operation, provision of staff support, and budget for
regional departments, Legislative Assembly and the Offices of the Governor and Vice Governor.
Three ongoing ARMM projects got P11.906 billion or 48.9 percent of the region’s total budget allocation. Appropriations for Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Synergy (HELPS) almost
doubled to P1.02 billion to finance construction of barangay halls, community learning centers and multipurpose buildings, public markets and terminals. About P76.5 million was set aside for the implementation, monitoring and supervision of the projects.
Another project, the ARMM BRIDGE (Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development for Sustainable Growth with Equity), was allotted P120 million to serve as the transition program for the Autonomous Regional Government to prepare communities for the Bangsamoro government.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on health and demography, noted that the Health Department will get a P90.21 billion allocation for 2015.
Some P37.06 billion of this would be used to pay the full health insurance premiums of poor families under the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; poor and low-income persons other than those identified by the DSWD; indigent barangay officials; and senior citizens.
Guingona said P1 billion will also be allocated to the Philippine Children’s Medical Center to ensure the structural integrity of its facilities and to improve the delivery of services to children needing special health care.
To address the need for additional medical personnel in government health institutions, the 2015 budget will set aside P4.3 billion to hire 398 doctors, 13,500 nurses, 2,700 midwives and 480 dentists.
A total of P129.03 million is allocated to fund the payment of Philhealth premiums of former rebels identified under the PAMANA and the Sajahatra Bangsamoro programs of the government.
The 2015 budget will also allocate P500 million for the Quick Response Fund, which will serve as a standby fund to be used for the repair and rehabilitation of health facilities and equipment, as well as to provide emergency medical assistance in areas stricken by calamities, epidemics and catastrophes.