Senate moves to restore P45M in VP’s budget

A SENATE panel on Wednesday moved to restore about P45 million in the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) budget for next year, intended for the purchase of service vehicles and research activities. The OVP proposed P723.387 million for its 2021 spending plan, which is P15.3 million higher than its 2020 funding. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM), however, only approved P679.73 million under the 2021 National Expenditure Program. “We have a lot of vehicles which cannot be used anymore,” Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo told the Senate panel during budget deliberations. “We have about six vehicles that we cannot use anymore for our relief operations, we have been using private vehicles,” she said. Out of the P45 million, P11 million will be used to procure six new service vehicles, while the rest will be spent for surveys for their research and other maintenance and operating expenses. “This is for the survey that is also part of the research and development allocation that was given to us last year. We included that again in the budget but they removed it also,” she said. Ms. Robredo said the research and development budget of the OVP for 2020, worth P69.2 million, was realigned to help fund the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, under Republic Act No. 11469, which involved response measures for the coronavirus crisis. Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon proposed to restore the original budget submitted by the OVP, and was supported by Senators Francis N. Pangilinan, Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, Juan Edgardo M. Angara and Manuel L. Lapid. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

DoLE rolls out aid for college-level OFW dependents

THE DEPARTMENT of Labor and Employment (DoLE) will be rolling out its cash assistance program for college level dependents of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement on Wednesday, DoLE said application is now open for its “Tabang OFW” grant to college students. The program, to be implemented through the Labor department’s regional offices, has a total allocation of P1 billion, with each beneficiary to get a one-time P30,000 cash aid. “The assistance is on a first-come, first-serve basis that is why we advise our OFWs to apply at our regional offices this early. They will facilitate the preparation of payment, including the release of the financial benefit to the grantees,” Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said. The grant is open to college students who are financially dependent on OFWs who were displaced or repatriated due to the coronavirus crisis. The beneficiary must be currently enrolled in a tertiary institution. Tabang OFW will cover the beneficiary’s “textbooks or learning materials, academic and extra-curricular expenses, and stipends including board and lodging, clothing, transportation, health or medical needs, and school supplies.” The DoLE program is in partnership with the Commission on Higher Education. — Gillian M. Cortez 

Sandiganbayan denies provisionary release of Enrile’s ex-aide

THE ANTI-GRAFT court Sandiganbayan denied the motion for provisional release filed by Jessica Lucila ‘Gigi’ Reyes, former chief of staff ex-senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who has been detained for six years over her involvement in the controversial pork barrel scam. Ms. Reyes filed her motion on May 28 based on humanitarian grounds, citing the risk of contracting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at the Camp Bagong Diwa, which she described as a “congested detention facility with occupants exponentially more than its maximum capacity.” The Sandiganbayan, voting 3-2, rejected the plea saying “there is no positive showing that accused Reyes is in actual or even imminent danger of being infected by the COVID-19.” The anti-graft court said that during its visits to Camp Bagong Diwa, it was shown the “cell where accused Reyes will be detained by herself separate from the other detainees.” It further negated the “probability that she would be infected by the virus from other inmates.” Ms. Reyes was diagnosed with hypertensive urgency and neurocirculatory asthenia in 2014. The anti-graft court, however, said these issues have already been medically diagnosed as not life-threatening. “It is worthy to mention that compared to other detention facilities where there has been transmission of COVID-19 among its detainees and staff, there is no report that there are inmates, or even personnel, of Camp Bagong Diwa who have tested positive for COVID-19,” the court said. An impasse of votes in the regular division prompted the Third Division of Sandiganbayan to create a special division, in which two special members were needed to “break a tie.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza