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Senate starts plenary debate on budget

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THE Senate on Tuesday started plenary discussions on the proposed P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019 with less than two weeks left before Congress goes on break on Dec. 14.

Senator Loren B. Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, sponsored Committee Report No. 538 with Senate amendments to the General Appropriations bill approved by the House of Representatives.

“Our Constitutionally-mandated task to ‘propose or concur with amendments’ to the national budget for fiscal year 2019 is almost complete and is now ready for plenary discussion, after holding 52 budget hearings, several briefings, and a comprehensive discussion with the agencies constituting the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) to thresh out the finer details of the 2019 national budget,” the senator said in her sponsorship speech.

Ms. Legarda said the highest allocation of the proposed budget is for social services at 36.7%, followed by economic services at 28.4%, general public services at 18.9%, debt burden at 11%, and defense at 5%.

Among the amendments of the Senate was the realignment of P20 billion within the unprogrammed fund to provide appropriations for rice and coconut farmers as prescribed in the coconut levy trust fund bill and the rice tariffication bill, which are up for the President’s signature.

Some P10 billion was allocated to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund to assist rice farmers, while the other P10 billion was directed to the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Fund, for use in the development of the coconut industry.

She said P43.3 billion of the budget will fund the free tuition program for state colleges, P30.7 billion to fund the Department of Education’s (DepEd)’s basic educational facilities (BEF) program, and P32.1 billion to fund the government assistance program for students in private schools.

Another P2.925 billion was allocated for university teachers’ salaries.

For health services, some P67.353 billion was allocated to the National Health Insurance Program and P2 billion to the Health Facilities Enhancement Fund.

Another big-ticket social services program was the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program with a budget allocation of P88.106 billion.

The economic services allocation includes P909.7 billion for the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) will also be also given P101.9 billion and P1.4 billion, respectively, for their Flood Management Program.

Another P507.8 million was earmarked for the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Shared Service Facilities program that will support micro, small and medium enterprises.

The Senate also backs the P172.4 billion allocation for the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the P177.7 billion for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

About P37.3 billion was allocated for the judiciary, P200 million of which will be used for the hiring of personnel to help decongest the courts.

Ms. Legarda also said a special provision was also inserted by the Senate requiring local government units to formulate local development plans as a way of strengthening the interdependence of the national government and the local government units.

The chamber also provided a provision on the ban on single-use plastics in all tourist destinations.

Following Ms. Legarda’s sponsorship, the Senate proceeded with its period of interpellation starting with the budget of the DTI. The chamber will also hold morning and afternoon sessions to deliberate on the budget until Dec. 11.

The Senate is targeting passage of the proposed budget on third and final reading on Dec. 11. The chamber also plans to hold the bicameral conference committee on Dec. 12 and ratify the budget on Dec. 13. Congress will then adjourn session on Dec. 14. — Camille A. Aguinaldo