PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday signed into law a P3.35-trillion national budget, the first spending plan under his administration, promising huge increases in infrastructure spending, free education at state universities and colleges, universal health care, rice allowances for the poor, and free irrigation for farmers.
The 2017 budget is 11.6 percent higher than the 2016 budget and is being positioned as a “pro-people, pro-investment and pro-growth” spending plan designed to improve social services and to lift Filipinos out of poverty.
“The General Appropriations Act of 2017 is the embodiment of the Filipinos’ clamor for real change and the call for an honest and compassionate government,” Duterte said after signing his first budget in Malacañang. “The signing of the GAA affirms the national government commitment to support the needs of our people.”
Among government agencies, the Department of Education once again gets the biggest chunk of the budget among all executive agencies with P544.1 billion to provide and maintain basic education facilities, create teaching and non-teaching positions as well as to develop and provide learning resources to more than 20 million Filipino students.
The increased budget will cover a higher cash or chalk allowance for teachers, from P1,500 to P2,500.
Deserving students will be given access to tertiary education through a P58.72-billion allocation for state universities and colleges (SUCs) and an P18.7-billion allocation for the Commission on Higher Education.
The increased allotment of P8 billion for the Higher Education Support Fund means students enrolled in state universities and colleges will not need to pay tuition.
Congress has also approved extra funding for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to provide education and skills training to recovering drug addicts.
Highlighting the push to increase infrastructure spending, the 2017 budget provides the Department of Public Works and Highways with a budget of P454.7 billion, and the Department of Transportation with P53.3 billion, increasing their budgets by 18.3 percent and 25 percent over their 2016 allocations, respectively.
The 2017 budget allots more than P850 billion to building roads, bridges, transport infrastructure and other public works. This will raise infrastructure spending to at least 5 percent of gross domestic product.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development will get P128.3 billion, a significant portion of which is the conditional cash transfer program, whose 4.4 million beneficiaries will now also get a rice subsidy in cash.
The Department of Health will get P96.3 billion to modernize health facilities and expand services. An additional P1.5 billion has been allocated to the department’s Doctors to the Barrios program, which aims to deploy competent and dedicated physicians to serve municipalities that do not have doctors.
The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will get a budget of P53.22 billion to fund universal health care for all Filipinos.
Indigent patients, under the No Balance Billing policy, will receive completely free service from government hospitals. DOH Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers will also be built in provinces that lack such facilities through a P2.646-billion allocation.
The Internal Revenue Allotment for local government units will be increased as well, with local governments getting additional transfers such as the Local Government Support Fund.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government will get P148 billion, which will be used to help the Philippine National Police campaign against illegal drugs, to build new jail facilities and to increase the subsistence allowance for prisoners.
The Department of National Defense will get P137.2 billion for territorial defense, the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and security services.
The Department of Agriculture will get a budget of P45.2 billion while the Department of Agrarian Reform will get P9.8 billion. Both departments are expected to intensify their support to agrarian reform communities and to redistribute agricultural lands to farmers.
Through an increased subsidy to the National Irrigation Authority, irrigation fees that farmers used to pay will now be provided without charge.
The government will also grant crop insurance to 1.3 million subsistence farmers and fishermen to minimize the effects of damage from typhoons and other natural calamities.
Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, hailed the 2017 budget for its increased support for education and other social services.
“We have provided funds to ensure universal health care coverage, free irrigation for farmers, free tuition in state universities and colleges, additional allowance for teachers, police and military, rice allowance for conditional cash transfer beneficiaries, creation of drug rehabilitation centers, increase in prisoners’ subsistence allowance, pension for post-World War II veterans and centenarians, among many others,” Legarda said.
Under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P100 million will be granted to centenarians and additional funding is provided for supplemental feeding programs. Moreover, the 4.4 million beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer or 4Ps program are now also entitled to a rice allowance in the form of cash grants.
Additional funding will also go to the Department of the Interior and Local Government to train and equip firefighters and to support the campaign of the Philippine National Police to fight illegal drugs.
Funds have also been allocated to increase the subsistence allowance of prisoners and to rehabilitate and build more jail facilities.
Defense spending will also increase to cover the repair of the Veterans Center and to expand the veterans hospitalization program.
Special provisions for climate and disaster resilience are also part of the 2017 budget, Legarda said.
The Department of Agriculture will get the needed funding to undertake disaster-resilient infrastructure projects, while the Department of Agrarian Reform will promote sustainable farming methods.