P300.2-Tln budget passes 3rd and final reading by PH Senate

Philippine Senate President Franklin Drilon.

The Philippine Senate on Thursday night passed on third and final reading the proposed Php300.2- trillion national budget for 2016 with some major amendments including the Php10.78-billion augmentation to the Department of National Defense budget.

Other amendments introduced in the Senate finance committee report included the restoration of the P500 million in the budget of the Commission on Elections.

Senate President Frank Drilon requested the Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda to restore the P500 million which the House of Representatives allotted for the Electronic Results Transmission Solution, Management and Services (ERTSMS).

The P500-million ERTSMS budget will require transmission and data center facilities and other support services to the additional 16,168 clustered precincts and 3,142 satellite devices nationwide.

The amount was not in the national expenditure program submitted to Congress but the House of Representative included it upon request of the Commission on Elections.

The Senate finance committee deleted the amount from the Comelec’s proposed P16-billion budget submitted by the House to the Senate.

”We are requesting the Senate Finance Committee as our amendment the reinstatement of the Php500 million for the Comelec in order to speed up the transmission of the results,” Drilon said.

The Senate also restored P3-billion cut in the budget of 114 state universities and colleges (SUCs), bringing back the total amount allotted for the SUCs to Php37.6 billion, excluding the Php11.9 billion for the University of the Philippines System.

Recto, vice chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the P3 billion would be for capital outlays, “so the amount appropriated for this in 2015 will be retained for 2016.”

This year, the amount authorized for SUC capital outlays in the national budget is P8.78 billion. But this was reduced to P5.72 billion in the proposed budget Malacañang had sent to Congress.

Recto also proposed additional P6 billion in tuition aid and scholarship grants for students in state schools, when offered next year, would transform many SUCs into no-tuition zones.

Drilon said during a media interview that “as far as I know there are lump sum items that cannot be avoided such as calamity fund.”

The 2016 National Budget contains P57.9 billion allotted for first year implementation of the Salary Standardization Law of 2015 which include salary increase, 14th month pay and enhanced performance-based bonus to be implemented over a four-year period. The four-tranche package has a total budget of P225.8 billion.

As suggested by Enrile, the biggest part of the DND’s budget will go to the Philippine Air Force to increase the country’s air assets capability.

To augment the budget of DND, SUC, OVP and other departments including Philippine National Police which get P516.5 million increase, the Senate cut the budgetary support to government corporations, particularly the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

As suggested by Recto, the Senate drained the LBP’s proposed P8 billion and DBP’s P18 billion budget supposedly intended to boost the assets of the two state-owned financial institutions.

Other government agencies that suffered big cut from the Senate version of the GAB are Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) amounting to Php2.75 billion; Social Welfare and Development – Php1.78 billion; Transportation and Communications – Php773 million; Economic and Development – Php638 million; and, Commission on Higher Education – Php1.3 billion.

The Department of Education received the largest portion in the budget pie, with an allocation of Php 411.89 billion, an increase of 28 percent or Php 90 billion from its Php 321 billion budget in 2015.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) received the second largest share with P382.42 billion, followed by the Department of National Defense (DND) with Php 126.64 billion, Department of Health (DOH) with Php 124.76 billion and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) with Php 124.26 billion.

Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, said the Senate version of the 2016 national budget “aims to proactively address the impacts of climate change and disasters on the country and promote inclusive and sustainable growth.”

The Senate amendments will be tackled at the bicameral conference committee, which is scheduled to meet starting Friday until next week.

Drilon expressed confidence that the budget will be signed by President Benigno Aquino III before the year ends.

“We expect to submit the budget to the President by December 14. That’s our target date so that the President will have a week to 10 days to review the budget and see whether he will exercise his line-item veto as he would traditionally,” Drilon said.

Legarda said the DepEd got 28 percent increase in budget for hiring of additional teachers and school feeding programs and “for the construction of 47,553 classrooms and technical-vocational laboratories.”

She said the increase in the SUC’s budget will be used to fund the construction of structures, acquisition of equipment, scholarship grants, among others.

The Senate appointed its representatives to the bicam that include Aquino, Guingona, Osmena, Villar, Legarda, Recto, Sotto, Enrile and Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara.

The senators voted 14-1 vote with no abstention to approve their own version after introducing amendments to the House Bill No. 6132 of the 2016 General Appropriation Bill.

Among the senators who cast the affirmative votes include Senators Ralph Recto, Pia Cayetano, Paolo Benigno ‘Bam’ Aquino, Teofisto Guingona III, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes IV, Serge Osmena III, Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero, Vicente Sotto III, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Senator Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III decided to cast a negative vote after his move to seek justification in the granting of the P269.5-million increase in the proposed P230.5 million budget of the Office of the President has been turned down.(PNA / By Jelly F. Musico)

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