Solons quiz Palace on P23b new funds

Raise fears supplemental budget meant for election

HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., the leader of the independent minority bloc Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and other lawmakers questioned Thursday the Palace’s decision to seek a supplemental budget of P23.34 billion for activities that already covered by the 2014 and 2015 budgets.

The request for a supplemental budget includes funding for post-typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation, the Metro Rail Transit 3 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that will be hosted by the Philippines in 2015.

Amid allegations that the 2015 national spending plan was really an “election budget,” lawmakers accused the Palace of making double insertions and sand bagging, and demanded that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad disclose the details of the projects and the sources of funding.

Belmonte said the House has yet to study the proposal while Romualdez demanded that the Palace first account for the previous supplemental budget of P14.8 billion that Congress allocated for calamity-stricken areas.

“We are studying the proposed supplemental budget to check if it was justified and if there really is a need for it,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.

“It is under study. No one has filed the bill to propose it to Congress,” Belmonte said.

Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said his panel has yet to receive the request for additional funding.

The Palace said Thursday it would certify the supplemental budget as urgent.

“The National Treasury has already certified the availability of funds to support these projects, but these appropriations must likewise be supported by proper legislation,” said Abad. “With the proposed 2015 National Budget already subject to Senate deliberations, we need the support of the House of Representatives to pass a supplemental appropriations bill to fund these projects.”

But Romualdez and Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz wanted Abad to explain where the funding from the Disbursement Allocation Program, earmarked for similar projects such as the MRT3, went.

Belmonte said his office and the House committee on appropriations, chaired by Davao Rep. Isidro Ungab, have received the proposal and were now studying whether or not Congress would push for it.

House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares slammed the Palace proposal, raising fears it may just be used for the campaigns of administration politicians in the 2016 elections.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Budget and Management said in its bid to develop a more responsive budget plan for the next fiscal year, the DBM is pushing for a P23.34-billion supplemental budget to ensure sufficient funding support for crucial development initiatives, including various infrastructure projects for post-Yolanda rehabilitation and government preparations for the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

A total of P16.4 billion—comprising the bulk of allocations under the supplemental budget—has been earmarked for new priority initiatives, Abad said.

Of this amount, Abad said, the administration’s Yolanda reconstruction and rehabilitation program will get P9.5 billion and another P1.44 billion will support key projects in preparation for the APEC Summit, which the Philippines will be hosting next year.

Abad said the supplemental budget would cover liabilities arising from obligated infrastructure projects worth P1.85 billion under the Department of Public Works and Highways.

He said a total of P5.08 billion would be coursed to a number of priority projects under various government agencies that have not been implemented or have been partially implemented.

“The funds will account for the budgetary requirements of priority projects that were partially implemented or previously approved for implementation this year,” he said.

“Most of these projects have already been completed, are on-going, or are urgently needed to sustain our socio-economic development. The passage of the proposed supplemental budget will allow us to allocate funds accordingly so we can complete these projects right away,” Abad said.

If approved by Congress, the 2014 Supplemental Appropriations will fund a number of priority projects, ranging from the rehabilitation of the LRT lines 1 and 2 to the construction of permanent housing for the victims of super typhoon Yolanda.

Colmenares, however, said the supplemental budget would allot some P5.08 billion for projects that were previously funded by the Priority Development Assistance Funds and DAP.

“We should ask why P5.08 billion would be allotted for the completion of projects that have been funded by the DAP and PDAF,” Colmenares said.

He demanded that these DAP and PDAF releases be accounted for, first.

“This supplemental budget is like the insertion of errata after the debates to avoid scrutiny. They said that the DAP has already served its purpose but why are they now saying that it still needs funding? They should first account for the P142 billion they spent in DAP before asking for more funds,” Colmenares said.

“If the DAP projects are unfinished Malacanang should have included it in the 2015 budget and not merely inserting it as a supplemental budget. We will guard against attempts to insert funding for projects which could be used by politicians in the 2016 election,” Colmenares said.

Despite Belmonte’s reservations, House Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal Jr. backed the immediate passage of the supplemental budget to ensure the continuity of Yolanda rehabilitation and rebuilding program.

While the Palace pressed Congress for the supplemental budget, it was cool on a measure that seeks to increase the tax exemption for 13th month pay and other bonuses from P30,000 to P82,000.

“The President uses the power to certify only when there is urgency in enacting a proposed law and there is no such indication until now,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

Once the measure is passed into law, it would be the first adjustment of the ceiling for tax-exempt bonuses since 1994.

Finance officials had earlier warned that raising the tax exemption cap would result in revenue loss of about P30 billion a year, but experts tapped by the Senate ways and means committee said any revenue loss would only be at P3 billion.

The supplemental budget, however, will be certified as urgent, Coloma said.

“The Department of Budget and Management has already submitted the proposal to Congress. And once it is filed, Budget Secretary Abad said he will recommend to the President that the measure be certified as urgent,” he added. With Maricel V. Cruz


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