Mar usurps Binay’s role

SENATOR Jinggoy Estrada on Thursday chided President Benigno Aquino III for favoring Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II with a P1.24 billion budget for housing programs instead of his political nemesis, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

“Just because Vice President Binay and Secretary Mar Roxas are at odds with each other, they will favor the other (Roxas). That is not right because the people will suffer from the bickering. If Budget Secretary (Florencio) Butch Abad will do that--zeroing the National Housing Authority budget, he will merely perpetually neglect those without homes. What kind of government is this?” said Estrada during budget debates on the proposed 2014 budget for the NHA, which is under the administrative supervision of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council under Binay.

In the 2010 vice presidential elections, Binay, who ran under the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), defeated Roxas of the ruling Liberal Party.

Binay has made no secret of his intentions to run for president in 2016, while the LP is expected to field Roxas as its standard bearer.

In Thursday’s hearing, Estrada questioned Abad for giving the Department of Interior and Local Governments P1.24 billion for housing for squatters.

“This is the function of the NHA and not the function of the DILG,” Estrada said.

He also asked if politics had shifted the housing function from the NHA to the DILG.

Aside from rejecting Binay’s request to increase the NHA’s budget for next year, Abad also gave the agency no budget for its housing programs for squatters.

The NHA had sought a budget of P24 billion for 2014, or P2.7 billion more than its current allocation, but the Budget Department gave it only P10 billion for next year, despite a backlog of 60,000 housing units in Metro Manila and 500,000 units outside the National Capital Region.

“What does this government want to show? They do not want the NHA to succeed? They do not want to have a housing program since it’s a zero budget (for the NHA)? Am I correct?” Estrada asked.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, an administration ally who handled the NHA budget, said the sudden decrease was due to questions about the agency’s “absorptive capacity.”

When Estrada pressed him about the possibility of restoring the NHA’s budget, Guingona merely said the matter would be discussed with the finance committee chairman. “We are ready to put an item to the housing assistance for calamity victims,” he said.

But Estrada said the zero budget for new housing was “a big joke” in the light of the damage wrought by recent natural disasters.

“Many of our countrymen... lost their homes, and then we’ll give the NHA zero budget. I think this is very, very suspicious, to say the least,” Estrada said.

He said if politics had a role in the decision, he would fight to restore the NHA budget.

At this point, Guingona merely reiterated that the matter would be discussed with finance committee chairman Francis Escudero.

In a separate interview, Escudero said they would restore the budget for housing for informal settlers.

“We will restore that item. We realized and its clear with the calamities that occurred that we need that NHA fund. In fact, in our proposed rehabilitation and reconstruction fund, we put an allocation for NHA involving housing, particularly the procurement of land to ensure it would not be in the geo-hazard map,” said Escudero.

He could not say how much the new allocation would be, however.

Also on Thursday, Escudero’s committee approved the proposed P417 million budget of the Office of the Vice President with no questions from the senators.

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