Senate finance committee chairman Senator Loren Legarda on Wednesday said that the 2018 national budget will be instrumental in ensuring that the Philippines maintains its economic status as one of the fastest growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The national budget is the lifeblood of the government. It is our investment for the future,” she said.
Recently, Fitch Ratings upgraded the Philippines’ long-term credit rating from BBB- to BBB, providing it with a stable outlook.
She atributed this to the continued acceleration of the country’s GDP growth and the Administration’s sound fiscal policies.
However, she said the greater challenge for government is to translate these economic gains into programs that would directly benefit all Filipinos, especially the poor.
Legarda said this is where the national budget becomes crucial, because the government should create a balance between supporting the economic agenda while also providing for the needs and promoting the general welfare of the Filipino people.
She said this was the Senate’s thrust in crafting the 2018 General Appropriations Bill, which has now been ratified by the Senate.
The Senate on Tuesday ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed 2018 General Appropriations Act.
Legarda explained that the 2018 national budget prioritizes the needs of the people—education, healthcare, livelihood, shelter and sustainable growth. It provides for free tuition in state universities and colleges, support for farmers, increase in teachers’ allowance and base pay of military and uniformed personnel, and the rehabilitation of Marawi City, among others.
The 2018 General Appropriations Bill has a P40 billion funding for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which would pave the way for free college education in all of the country’s SUCs, local universities and colleges and state-run technical-vocational institutions; P10 million for capital outlay for each SUC to address their infrastructure and equipment needs; P327 million for free Wi-Fi in SUCs and public places; and P250 million funding under the Commission on Higher Education for free tuition for medical students enrolled in SUCs.
Under the Department of Education budget, cash allowances of teachers—intended for the purchase of classroom supplies like chalk, markers, paper, erasers and other materials—will increase from P2,500 to P3,500 per teacher.
The 2018 budget will continue to fund the Universal Healthcare Program under PhilHealth so that all Filipinos can access healthcare services in all government hospitals.
There is also a P3.5-b for PhilHealth Plus to provide for the health insurance of government employees under the executive department.
The Department of Health budget was increased to provide additional funding for Medical Assistance Program for indigent patients, additional medicine for cancer patients and Health Facilities Enhancement Program, among others. A special provision was also included to prohibit the purchase of Dengue vaccines.
To improve social services, aside from maintaining the P89-billion budget for the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, there is an allocation in the amount of P2.080-bin the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development for the rehabilitation of social welfare and activity centers and Bahay Pagasa juvenile detentions.
Farmers will continue to receive government support through the subsidy of irrigation service fees being paid by farmers to the National Irrigation Administration. The Department of Agriculture also has P2.669-b for the construction, restoration or improvement of small-scale irrigation projects and P4.281-b for the construction of facilities and procurement of agricultural machineries and equipment.
To support the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises, there is additional funding worth P800-m in the Department of Trade and Industry’s Shared Service Facilities, which intends to increase the productivity of MSMEs by giving them access to efficient technologies, skills, knowledge, and systems.
The budget of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority was also increased for its quality technical education and skills development program.
To ensure quick recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City, P10-b was allocated for such purpose under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund.
In support of strengthening the military and police’s role in maintaining national security and peace and order, the 2018 GAB provides improved benefits for uniformed personnel. It allocated P60-b for the increase of base pay of military and uniformed personnel and Php1.35 Billion for the PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines Housing Program.
Unpaid pension that the government owes surviving spouses of World War II veterans will now be fully paid under the 2018 budget with the allocation of Php1.647 Billion for the payment of total administrative disability arrears.
Under the Department of Interior and Local Government budget, P334-m was earmarked for the acquisition of cameras for police officers, P100-m for closed circuit television (CCTV), P451-m for the purchase of two helicopters, and P70-m additional funding under the Internal Affairs Service to ensure that they have sufficient funds to conduct their investigation on erring policemen.
Additional P300-m was also allocated under the Bureau of Corrections for additional prison facilities.
Under the budget of the Department of Finance, P1.493-b was allocated for the purchase of x-ray machines and a special provision was introduced to expand custom inspection to include bulk inspection and containerized van.
The 2018 GAB also funds the E-SALN project and whistle blower account of the Ombudsman, while the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit will get additional capital outlays, and the Commission on Human Rights will receive additional operating budget.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs budget received an increase of P783-million for additional funding of existing consular offices and embassies, opening of new consulates, cultural diplomacy programs, training programs, and hazard pay of DFA employees in hardship posts, among others.
Legarda said that she ensured that, as in previous budgets she handled, the 2018 GAB includes funding in various agencies of government to institutionalize disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation measures, as well as including special and general provisions that will ensure ecological integrity, clean and healthy environment, risk-sensitive investments, and disaster preparedness.
Moreover, the Quick Response Fund of various agencies originally lodged under the NDRRM Fund was transferred to the implementing agencies to ensure quick access and utilization when the need arises.
Legarda also ensured that art and culture and heritage promotion will continue to be supported in the national budget, primarily through funding for the cultural activities of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
“The 2018 GAB puts our people at the center of our agenda. It aims not only to create growth, but ensures that everyone benefits from the growth we will create together,” Legarda said.