By Ben Rosario
With the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act finally getting to the jurisdiction of the executive department, a key member of the House of Representatives leadership came out anew to accuse the Senate of sabotaging President Duterte’s vital projects for the year, including the much-vaunted “Build, Build, Build” program.
Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, divulged that the Senate had tinkered with some items of the proposed budget.
In a statement issued to House reporters Monday, Andaya turned the tables on political foe and fellow Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte who chided the House leadership for insisting that it distributed to favored allies some P92.3 billion in infrastructure funds.
He also denied allegations from senators that the amendment introduced by the Lower House panel to the bicameral conference committee “were meant to debilitate the Executive department in implementing” Duterte’s priorities.
“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,” said Andaya.
“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,” he stated.
The veteran administration lawmaker expressed hopes that the budget bill will be signed soon by President Duterte after his office 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,” he stressed.
He said the House never made any move to reduce the 2019 budget for infrastructure projects as reflected in the National Expenditure Program.
“In fact, the House introduced amendments increasing the budget for infrastructure projects without breaching the total amount pegged by the National Expenditure Program,” said Andaya, who served as budget secretary to former president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The move, Andaya pointed out, would allow the executive department to “spur economic growth through increased public expenditure.”
According to Andaya, the Lower House leadership is 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.
He said items taken out of the 2019 GAB by the Senate include, but not limited to, the following:
1. Department of Transportation – P5 billion for right-of-way projects.
2. Department of Public Works and Highways – P 11.033 billion for right-of-way projects.
3. Foreign Assisted Projects under DPWH – P2.5 billion 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.
4. Technical Education and Skills Development Authority – 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.
5. Department of Environment and Natural Resources – P2.254 billion for National Greening Program, which resulted in 50 percent budget cut for all PENROs except Antique.
6. Department of Foreign Affairs – P7.5 billion budget for SEA Games taken out, but P5 billion transferred to Philippine Sports Commission and P2.5 billion nowhere to be found.
7. Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund – P13.4 billion. The MPBF is one of three sources of money paid to government personnel. The other two are the budgets lodged under each agency and the Pension and Gratuity Fund. Under Special Provision No. 1, the MPBF may be used for “deficiencies in authorized salaries, bonuses, allowances, associated premiums and other similar personnel benefits of national government personnel….”
8. Pension and Gratuity Fund – P39 billion. The Gratuity Fund covers payment of the following: Pension of AFP retirees; war or military veterans of the DND; retired uniformed personnel of the DILG, PC-INP, NAMRIA and Philippine Coast Guard; and other retirees of the national government.
9. Retirement benefits for optional retirees of the National Government; retired personnel of GOCCs which are financially unable to pay said benefits; and personnel devolved to LGUs.
10. Separation benefits or incentives of affected personnel pursuant to the implemention 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.
11. Monetization of leave credits of National Government personnel and transferred leave credits of those devolved to the LGUs.
“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,” Andaya revealed.