House keeps drug war funding, eyes Tuesday approval of budget
The House of Representatives is expected to approve on third and final reading its version of the 2018 budget law this Tuesday.
The House’s version of the General Appropriations Act saw the realignment of P40 billion for free college tuition—and kept the P900-million budget for the Duterte administration’s brutal antidrug campaign.
Appropriations committee chair Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said the House’s budget bill was already completed and is currently being printed.
“Either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how fast the printers can finish printing the physical copy of the budget,” Nograles said in a Sunday interview with radio station DZBB.
Separately, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told reporters that “barring any printing technical difficulties,” the vote will be held on Tuesday “immediately following the Roll Call” at 4 p.m.
Free college tuition
The biggest change introduced by the House to the P3.767-trillion budget proposal of the Department of Budget and Management was the realignment of P40 billion to fund free college tuition in state institutions.
It may be recalled that the DBM already submitted the budget to Congress in late July and President Duterte only signed the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act into law in early August, leaving the task for Congress to make adjustments.
Nograles said P30 billion of the budget will come from the Department of Education and another P6 billion from the Commission on Higher Education and various state universities and colleges.
He said the funds were originally meant for scholarship programs, so “accounting-wise, we transferred those to free higher education because SUCs will benefit just the same.”
Another P3 billion was sourced from two bus rapid transit system projects of the Department of Transportation—along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and Quezon Avenue—which were “not yet ripe” for implementation in 2018.
“They only needed funds for engineering and design. So, we left a bit [of the funds]. We got the bulk to bring to free higher education,” Nograles said.
The remaining P1 billion came from the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s budget.
Nograles also said internal adjustments were made to the budgets of SUCs to provide more capital outlay, or funds for the construction of facilities.
Hospitals to generate income in lieu of budget
However, despite the call of various sectors to undo the budget cuts for the maintenance and other operating expenses of government hospitals, Nograles said the budget was not changed citing the DBM’s expectation that they are “already income-generating.”
He also said that more funds have already been allocated for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. so “there would be more beneficiaries of free Philhealth [coverage].”
Nograles added the Department of Health has a medical assistance program, and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office can provide assistance too.
“We’re already having a hard time looking for money for free higher education, then you want us to adjust for public hospitals,” he said.
Drug war funding kept
The House also decided to keep the P900-million funding for the Philippine National Police’s controversial antidrug campaign, Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded.
This was despite the formal moves made by the progressive Makabayan bloc which has been concerned over the occurrence of human rights violations and killings.
Nograles said the budget was sustained because the killings were supposedly not state-sanctioned. “It is not our police to kill, it is not our policy to do… what the PNP is allegedly doing,” he said.
He also invoked the speculation first raised by President Duterte that the killings of young suspects in August was meant to sabotage the government’s antidrug campaign.
“If we play into that trap and, say, we remove support for the police, it’s like we’re telling criminals and drug lords to continue their activities in the country. They will win,” Nograles said. “Let us continue the support against crimes and drugs, but we should not allow the police to abuse their power.” /je