House starts deliberations on P2-T government budget for 2013By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The House of Representatives on Wednesday kicked off deliberations on the P2.006 trillion national budget for 2013, which involves higher budget for infrastructure and for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program for the country’s poorest.
But the increased spending in road works and dole outs drew the suspicion of militant lawmakers, who said these seemed to have been timed to help administration allies who will run in next year’s midterm elections.
The Aquino administration was earlier hit by critics who panned its underspending on infrastructure, which supposedly contributed to the sluggish economic growth.
The administration has set aside P409.8 billion for infrastructure outlays, including allocations for government-owned and controlled corporations, for 2013. The budget for the CCT was expanded to P44.256 billion to cover 3.8 million households.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad implored lawmakers to approve the administration’s 2013 budget early, and to keep it intact.
Abad added that the 2013 budget was intended to bring about results that would fulfill the President’s promises to the people.
In his presentation, Abad noted the designation of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as the principal infrastructure agency in order to enable other line agencies to focus on their core mandates.
For instance, should the Department of Health need new rural health centers or the Department of Education need new roads, these agencies would only have to identify the location of the infrastructures they want built, and the design, costing, bidding and supervision would be up to the DPWH.
But Kabataan Representative Raymond Palatino said this seemed to have been done to prepare for next year’s polls.
“On the surface, there’s nothing sinister in this categorization … But the timing of the move is suspect since election campaigning is just a few months away. Did the government centralize the infrastructure projects to make it more convenient for dirty politicians to receive kickbacks from overpriced and anomalous infrastructure projects?” Palatino said in a statement.
He also said the higher infrastructure spending was expected since the administration party wants to rule the polls and “an effective vote-getter is to improve the government’s ‘concrete’ achievements.”
He also found it interesting that the DPWH’s budget just for road upgrading was increased to P26 billion.
“Indeed, elections always bring out the innovativeness of our leaders,” he added.
Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño also said the increased spending on infrastructure and cash dole outs seems to be a familiar ploy for the election season.
“Given our past experience, the proposed P2.006 trillion national budget certainly looks and feels like an election budget given the substantial increases in infrastructure, dole outs and social spending,” Casiño said.
Other lawmakers, however, hailed the DPWH’s designation as the principal infrastructure agency, saying it was only fitting as public works personnel have the expertise.
Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga noted that Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson had been performing well and had been able to minimize corruption, based on the feedback he got from contractors he knows.
As for the CCT, always a sticking point in previous deliberations on the Aquino administrastion’s budget, Abad said funding for the program was increased because the coverage would be expanded from 3 million to 3.8 million impoverished households.
He said the program would be complemented by a supplementary feeding program, social pension for senior citizens, a livelihood capacity building program and emergency housing assistance.
Under the CCT program, the poorest of the poor families would receive up to P1,400 a month in exchange for sending their children to school and getting pregnant women to undergo regular checkups.
But Palatino said the cash assistance might be used to court more votes should the poor remain unimpressed with pork projects.