Senate eyes P20-B rehabilitation fund in 2014 budget
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MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is proposing a P20-billion fund in the 2014 budget to rehabilitate areas devastated by “supertyphoon Yolanda’’ and other calamities the past months.
As Congress resumes sessions Monday from a three-week-long Halloween break, the senators begin plenary debates on the P2.268-trillion budget.
Sen. Francis Escudero indicated that the large-scale devastation that Yolanda left in its wake in central Philippines has highlighted the need for a separate rehabilitation fund in the budget.
“We are allotting P20-billion fund to rehabilitate areas devastated by calamities,’’ he said in a radio interview, referring to areas struck by Yolanda, storms “Labuyo’’ and “Pablo,’’ the 7.2 magnitude earthquake and the siege in Zamboanga City.
The chair of the Senate finance committee said the P20 billion would be taken from the miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (MPBF) in the budget.
This would be apart from the additional funds that the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Public Works and Highways, Health, and Environment and Natural Resources, would propose in the reconstituted budgets that they had been asked to submit to the Senate, he said.
And all these would be on top of the P74-billion disaster risk reduction and climate change fund in the 2014 budget, he said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon last Monday urged Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to submit a revised 2014 budget to the Senate, including a minimum P10-billion rehabilitation fund for disaster-stricken areas.
The high death toll and destruction brought by the supertyphoon should prod the Department of Budget and Management to recast the national budget in view of the “massive rehabilitation’’ that would be undertaken, he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other House leaders pushed for a rehabilitation fund of as much as P20 billion.
All the amendments to the House-approved budget measure would be tackled at the bicameral conference committee after the Senate approves its own version on third reading.
Escudero said Cabinet officials in charge of relief and search operations for the victims of the supertyphoon in Tacloban City and Leyte, among other hard-hit areas, would be excused from the budget deliberations for now.
But eventually, the officials would have to appear before the Senate to defend their budgets, he said.
Escudero thumbed down a proposal for the Senate to cancel their sessions for a week in sympathy with the victims. He said senators should continue doing their job of passing the budget before the year-end to avoid any reenactment.
The proposal, however, would be tackled at a senators’ caucus on Tuesday, he said.