Solons rush budget bill to beat deadline

CONGRESS is set to approve on third and final reading tomorrow the P3.767-trillion General Appropriations Bill that would guarantee the implementation of the administration’s pro-poor programs, including the free college tuition and the “build, build, build” infrastructure projects of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Barring any printing technical difficulties, we will consider on third reading the 2018 GAB on Tuesday immediately following the roll call,” said Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, the House majority floor leader.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, chairman of the committee on appropriations, said they expected the President to sign the bill on or before Nov. 15.

Nograles made his statement following the full restoration of the budget of the Energy Regulatory Commission’s P650.9-million budget and the National Commission on Indigenous People’s P1.13-billion budget.

The Commission on Human Rights’ budget appropriation was cut by P115 million when only P508 million of its P623-million budget request, excluding the P55-million payment for pensions for a total P678-million allocation, was restored.

Meanwhile, Malacañang on Sunday welcomed Congress’ decision to allot P40 billion for free college education in state universities and colleges and locally funded colleges.

“We welcome the move of the House of Representatives to allot P40 billion next year for free college education in state universities and colleges and locally funded colleges,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

“Free tertiary public education is a cornerstone of the social development policy of the Duterte administration.

“The P40 billion would also provide additional stipends to very poor students and allow parents to borrow low-interest loans to help their children complete their education.”

The House of Representatives has alloted P40 billion for next year for free college education in more than 100 state universities and colleges and locally funded schools.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, chairman of the appropriations committee, said P30 billion of the P40 billion was taken from the Department of Education’s school building program.

“School building projects with problems as to site―no space, no lot to build on―their funding was realigned to free college education,” Nograles said.

He said his committee also pooled P6 billion from the scholarship programs of the Commission on Higher Education and SUCs, while P3 billion was taken from the Department of Transportation and P1 billion from the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

“The P40 billion will cover free tuition and miscellaneous expenses for all SUCs as well as local colleges and universities accredited by the CHED,” Nograles said. 

“It will also cover free technical and vocational education offered by tech-vocational schools under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.”

The Nograles committee made the realignments before finalizing the House version of the proposed P3.8-trillion national budget for 2018.

President Rodrigo Duterte had signed the free college education law even if he knew there was no funding for it. He tossed the problem to the lawmakers, saying they too knew the absence of funds when they approved the program.

The House is now printing the proposed budget for next year.

Nograles said he expected the outlay to be approved on third and final reading on Tuesday or Wednesday. It would then be sent to the Senate.

Topics: Congress , General Appropriations Bill , Pro-poor programs , Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas , Rep. Karlo Nograles
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