THE chairman of the House committee on appropriations yesterday accused the Senate of sabotaging the programs of President Rodrigo Duterte, especially the Build, Build, Build Program as well as the pension for military retirees and other personnel after it allegedly cut down unilaterally some P83 billion from the 2019 P3.757-trillion national budget.
“It is the Senate that may find itself liable to accusation of sabotage when it decided, unilaterally, to cut down the allocation for the President’s Build, Build, Build Program and other priority projects. We are confident that the Office of the President would consider these items in their review and find ways on how to restore them in the President’s veto message,” said Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya, Jr., the panel chairman.
Andaya said “the House of Representatives never made a move to reduce the 2019 budget for infrastructure projects as appropriated in the National Expenditure Program (NEP).”
“In fact, the House introduced amendments increasing the budget for infrastructure projects without breaching the total amount pegged by the National Expenditure Program. This would allow the Executive Department to spur economic growth through increased public expenditure. We made sure however that such amendments will pass the test not only of constitutionality and legality, but also of transparency and accountability,” Andaya explained.
He said the items taken out of the 2019 national budget by the Senate include, but not limited to, the following: Department of Transportation (DOTr) - P5-billion for right-of-way projects; Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) - P11.033-billion for right-of-way projects; Foreign Assisted Projects (FAP) under DPWH, P2.5 billion; and others.
“Depriving the government with funds for right-of-way and other infrastructure projects will surely hamper the implementation of the President’s Build, Build, Build Program. Construction on priority projects including mass transit and railway systems will be mostly affected,” said Andaya.
Andaya also said that the Senate allegedly took away the budget of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) -P3-billion for scholarship of rebel returnees, out-of-school youths and rehabilitating drug dependents enrolled under the Universal Access to Tertiary Education. As a result, at least 320,000 students enrolled under the program will lose their scholarship this year; Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) - P2.254 billion for National Greening Program, which resulted in 50 percent budget cut for all PENROs except Antique; Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) - P7.5 billion budget for South East Asian (SEA) Games taken out, but P5 billion transferred to Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and P2.5 billion nowhere to be found; Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) - P13.4-billion.
Andaya explained that the MPBF is one of three sources of money paid to government personnel, adding that the other two are the budgets lodged under each agency and the Pension and Gratuity Fund.Under Special Provision No. 1, Andaya said the MPBF may be used for “deficiencies in authorized salaries, bonuses, allowances, associated premiums and other similar personnel benefits of national government personnel….”
He said the Senate also allegedly removed the Pension and Gratuity Fund in the amount of P39-billion, which covers the payment for the following: Pension of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) retirees; war or military veterans of the Department of National Defense (DND); retired uniformed personnel of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), PC-INP, NAMRIA and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG); and other retirees of the National Government.
“Retirement benefits for optional retirees of the National Government; retired personnel of GOCCs (government-owned and controlled corporations) which are financially unable to pay said benefits; and personnel devolved to LGUs. Separation benefits or incentives of affected personnel pursuant to the implementation of: (i) restructuring of agencies affected by the integration and automation of the Budget Treasury and Management System and the operationalization of the Treasury Single Account; and (ii) rightsizing, merger, streamlining, abolition or privatization,” said Andaya. “Monetization of leave credits of National Government personnel and transferred leave credits of those devolved to the LGUs (local government units).”
“We wish to emphasize that the details of these budget cuts were not fully discussed in the bicameral conference committee. The senators unilaterally decided on the budget cuts and realigned them to other items based on request of individual proponents. Up to now, the Senate has yet to make public a detailed report on the proponents who recommended the individual realignments,” said Andaya.
Andaya said the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) has been transmitted for signature of President Duterte, and we expect it to be signed after the Office of the President has wrapped up its review of the veto message.
“We respect the veto power of the President, and we are convinced that he will exercise such authority for the benefit of the nation and of our people. Nevertheless, we wish to clarify allegations from the Senate that the amendments introduced by the House of Representatives in the bicameral conference committee meetings were meant to debilitate the Executive Department in implementing the President’s priority programs and projects,” said Andaya.