House budget amendments more of augmentation than restoration — Defensor

Published October 1, 2019, 3:16 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Ellson Quismorio

The P9.5-billion worth of realignments announced by the House leadership Monday were augmentations, and not necessarily restorations, of the slashed budgets of different departments under the proposed 2020 national budget.

Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor (Mike Defensor FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN/ FILE PHOTO)
Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor (Mike Defensor FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN/ FILE PHOTO)

This was the takeaway from Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor’s comments when he was asked in a press conference Tuesday to expound on the amendments made to the P4.1-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2020.

“Let me clarify that the amendment is not the budget itself. It was an addition to the existing budget,” Defensor said, referring to the P9.5 billion that House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano broke down before reporters the previous day.

Defensor cited as an example the Department of Agriculture (DA), which received the biggest amendment at P3.5 billion. The additional money is meant to augment the agency’s palay (unhusked rice) procurement program, which stands at P7 billion.

Other significant realignments include the P1 billion each for the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the camp development program.

Defensor said the realignments will “help push the programs of the different departments.”

An interpretation by some with regard the realignments was that the House intended to restore the budget cuts made by the Department of Budget of Management (DBM) while it was putting the 2020 National Expenditure Program (NEP) together earlier this year.

“If it was a restoration, hindi ko alam (I wouldn’t know),” said Defensor, a former Malacañang chief of staff.

The NEP is the basis of the GAB, or the budget bill that would be initially filed in the House of Representatives. The NEP is formed using the budget requests sent by the various government agencies to the DBM.

“Yung submission kasi from the departments to the Department of Budget and Management hindi namin actually nakikita unless they present it to us (We actually don’t see the budget submissions of the departments to the Department of Budget and Management unless they present it to us),” he said.
Similarly, House members won’t immediately know if the DBM slashed the departments’ requested budgets, since these are only uncovered during the per-agency budget hearings of the Committee on Appropriations.

“Itong sinubmit sa amin ng DBM (What the DBM submitted to Congress)…is actually the NEP. Based on our deliberation and study, Congress led by Speaker Cayetano made amendments [to the proposed national budget]. So it (realignment) is an addition to what was submitted to us,” explained Defensor.

Information gathered during these Appropriations Committee hearings would suggest that restoring the requested budgets of some agencies would be an impossible task.

In the case of the DA, Secretary William Dar told congressmen that they actually sought a P333-billion budget for next year, but the DBM only granted them P71 billion–a difference of P262 billion.

The funds for realignment will be sourced from the Department of Public Works and Highway’s (DPWH) road right-of-way budget worth P3.75 billion and the Commission on Election’s (Comelec) supposed P5.77-billion budget for the 2020 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) polls, among others.