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Gov’t calamity fund in a state of calamity

By Christine Avendańo, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:38:00 10/01/2009

Filed Under: Ondoy, Flood, Disasters & Accidents, Government, State Budget & Taxes

MANILA, Philippines?The government?s calamity fund of P1 billion for the whole year is in danger of being depleted, a prospect that would be calamitous for victims of the killer floods and landslides caused by Tropical Storm ?Ondoy? (international codename: Ketsana).

The calamity fund has dwindled to just P27 million as the money had been spent for previous calamities that hit the country, lawmakers learned from Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Tuesday night.

P10-B supplemental fund

Faced with a zero calamity fund, Congress plans to approve before its break two weeks from now a P10-billion supplemental budget to help provide relief for victims of Saturday?s deadly floods in Metro Manila and neighboring areas.

The supplemental budget was agreed upon after a meeting attended by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Edgardo Angara and Deputy Speaker Raul del Mar, and by Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Teodoro, and Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane on Tuesday night.

Also in attendance were Senators Loren Legarda and Rodolfo Biazon, Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales III, Quirino Rep. Junie Cua and party-list Rep. Florencio Noel.

Cua, chair of the House committee on appropriations, said the majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives had agreed to support the passage of the supplemental budget in view of the P4.8 billion worth of damage?P3.20 billion for infrastructure and P1.59 billion for agriculture?caused by Ondoy.

Ondoy unexpected

?We asked (Andaya) to relay the sense of Congress to the President that we are considering adopting a supplemental budget to help the flood victims not only those in Marikina, Cainta and the Laguna areas but also in some provinces,? Enrile told reporters.
He said the supplemental budget was sought because ?we never anticipated there will be Ondoy.?

?It is a contingency that happened after the budget of the President (proposed 2010 national budget) was submitted, so there?s a need to provide the funds, special funds for that event and it has to be by way of a supplemental budget,? the Senate president said.

Enrile said the P10 billion being sought was based on ?the estimated damage incurred not only by Ondoy but also in the past calamities that have not been attended to.?

The amount was also based on the government?s ?anticipation of other typhoons that may come and inflict injuries to our people,? he said.

Cash subsidy urged

On top of the P10 billion, lawmakers also urged Malacańang to immediately release through its calamity fund a cash subsidy of P1,000 for each of the 150,000 poorest families affected by Ondoy.

Zubiri said the supplemental budget would set aside P7 billion for victims of Ondoy, which have killed close to 300 people.

The money will be for cleanup operations in flood-affected areas and putting up of preventive flood measures such as dikes and canals, and for subsidies of victims, according to Zubiri.

He said the remaining P3 billion would go to victims of last year?s Typhoon ?Frank,? which affected mostly the people and infrastructure in Panay.

?If we pass the supplemental budget before the break, which is Oct. 14, it can be released probably by the end of October,? Zubiri said.

Funding from bonds

He said this would happen if President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the supplemental budget this month.

Zubiri said that according to Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, who spoke with the lawmakers on the phone, the P10 billion would come from proceeds of government bonds to be floated this week for the purpose of augmenting the government?s calamity fund.

Zubiri also said he had asked Andaya to ensure that the P1,000 for the poorest families would be released by Friday or the latest, next Monday so that families could immediately benefit from the cash subsidy.

?These are families who don?t have money in the bank, no savings, no jobs and are low-income earners,? he said.

Money for portalets

Zubiri also said the lawmakers had urged the Department of Budget and Management to release money so that authorities could purchase portalets or potable toilet units, which are badly needed in evacuation centers.

Enrile said the proposed supplemental budget was an ?offshoot of different proposals,? including that of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago who earlier filed a bill seeking to provide the government P10 billion to help flood victims of Ondoy but using the road user?s tax.

Enrile said Congress could not tap the money from the road user?s tax because it was for a specific purpose?to be used for repairs of roads and bridges destroyed.

Andaya told the lawmakers that the government could only afford to shell out an extra P10 billion as other calamities might befall the country within the year.

The Department of Finance reported a P210-billion budget deficit as of August this year, representing 84 percent of its target of P250 billion for the whole year.

?We agreed that there is a need for fresh funding to augment the calamity fund of the President which has dwindled to very low levels. We have to prepare for the coming typhoons,? Cua said.

Stimulus fund

Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino Biazon said the House minority would not object to the passage of a P10-billion supplemental fund considering that the calamity funds had shrunk to about P20 million.

But Biazon said the administration should be transparent on how the money would be spent.

He said the government could also use the money as a sort of ?stimulus fund? to fast-track the return of families and communities to normalcy.

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