THE House of Representatives on Tuesday night ratified the P3.35-trillion budget for 2017 following its approval by the bicameral conference committee.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the 2017 budget will be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Dec. 22.
He made the statement even as
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said next year’s budget carried the amendments he initiated.
He said foremost of the amendments was the P8- billion Free College Tuition Fund that was lodged with the Commission on Higher Education. He said that will exempt from basic matriculation close to a million state university and college students next year.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said the House contingent in the bicam agreed to accept the Senate’s position to allocate some P8.3 Billion, which was originally allotted for development projects in the ARMM, to the Commission on Higher Education to remove the impasse on the budget and avoid further delays on its approval.
“We are one with the position of President Duterte that we really need to develop Mindanao if we want to defeat the insurgency problem in the region, which is why we programmed infrastructure projects in Mindanao, including the ARMM. But some members of the Senate opined that this could be in violation of the ARMM Organic Act,” Nograles said.
“This created some sort of deadlock as the House stood its ground since we saw nothing in the Organic Act of the ARMM that prohibits the national government from implementing infrastructure projects in ARMM especially if identified in the medium term development plan. In the end, we decided to give in just so that a budget is passed because we do not want a re-enacted budget.”
The P8.3-billion additional CHED fund was allocated purportedly to finance free tuition for students in all State Universities and Colleges and additional funds for incentives and grants.
Nograles said it was a “good concept” to have free tuition for all students in our SUCs.
“But I am really worried if the fund is actually enough or if it will be properly implemented. The worst thing that can happen is if this fund becomes underutilized or underspent. We really have to keep an eye on this,” he said.
Apart from the P8.3 billion “free college education fund,” Nograles said other additional “big ticket” projects approved in the bicam were as follows: additional of 1,000 Cash allowance for teachers (770M); additional funds for scholarship in SUCS of 1.2 billion; free tuition for Medical students of P317 million; supplemental feeding of P1 billion for DSWD; centenarian fund of P100 million; irrigation fees subsidy of P2 billion; Pondo sa pag-asenso at pagbabago fund of P1 billion; additional increase of PHILHEALTH subsidy by P3 billion; additional funds for Doctors to the barrios and construction of health facilities of P1.5 billion; additional fund of 2.8 billion for the DND to effectively defend the country from internal and external threats.