Congress finalizes P3.767-T budget for 2018
The House of Representatives on Tuesday evening ratified the final version of the P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 to be sent to the desk of President Rodrigo Duterte for his approval.
The finalized House Bill No. 6215, or the General Appropriations Act, was ratified just hours after the bicameral conference committee reached a consensus regarding provisions that conflicted with those of Senate’s version of the bill.
In a statement, House appropriations committee chair Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said “President Rodrigo Duterte can proudly affix his signature to this measure on December 19,” their self-imposed deadline for the enactment of the national budget.
The House and Senate’s delegations took nearly two weeks to harmonize the differing provisions of the budget law, some of which arose from developments that took place late along the legislative process.
Realigned drug war budget
For one, the House adopted the realignment of the P900-million budget for the Philippine National Police’s controversial antidrug operations. This became a P952-million allocation for the housing of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ personnel.
It may be recalled that President Duterte only made the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency take the lead of his flagship “war on drugs” on Oct. 10, after the House already passed its version of the budget.
The finalized bill also increased to P334 million the budget for the purchase of body cameras to be used by the PNP amid suspicion on the common official line that drug suspects were killed for resisting arrest in legitimate operations. This was thrice the initial allocation of P100 million.
“The Chief Executive recognizes this need amid the ongoing wars against illegal drugs and other forms of criminality. President Duterte knows how to take and respond to constructive criticism,” Nograles said of the body cameras.
Another late supervening event was the House’s Monday approval of the increase in the base pay of military and uniformed personnel by an average of 58.7 percent, effective January 1, 2018.
Nograles said the lawmakers “exercised foresight” by setting aside an additional P62 billion to fund the increase in salaries and hazard pay.
On other security-related matters, the two chambers also settled on a P451-million funding for the acquisition of two single-engine helicopters, and an P850-million increase in the budget for the maintenance and other operating expenses of police stations.
The bicameral conference also finalized the P40-billion allocation for free tuition and miscellaneous fees in state universities and colleges, Nograles said.
The August enactment of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education initially presented a challenge to lawmakers since the Department of Budget and Management did not include free tertiary education in its July budget proposal.
“Now there is no stopping free college education in the country. This is truly a legacy-defining measure for the Duterte administration, and its implementation was made possible through the 2018 national budget,” he said.
The bill also provided for a P1,000 increase in the cash allowance of public school teachers to P3,500, from the current P2,500. This would cost P770 million all in all.
Lawmakers also increased the capital outlays of state universities and colleges across the board by P10 million, to be used in the repair and construction of academic buildings as well as the purchase of equipment. These increases totaled P3.7 billion.
Another P327 million would be used to set up free Wi-Fi systems for all state universities and colleges.
Nograles also said the budget would provide for a P3.5-billion subsidization in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.’s budget for the cost of health care benefits of government employees under the executive branch.
An opponent of the Congress’ budget plan, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, said the approved version was “still essentially an anti-people budget with a smothering of a few populist measures.”
For him, allotting “a huge chunk” of the 2018 budget to the armed sector made it “in effect… a Martial law budget.”
“The measures and agencies that suppress rights and ensure that the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer are the ones being funded by our taxpayers money,” Zarate said.
He also denounced the continued P2-billion cut to the budget for drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation centers and the P1.5-billion reduction in the maintenance and other operating expenses of public hospitals.
Zarate also noted how only P4.41 billion was allocated to the housing sector, compared to the P48 billion set aside for right-of-way acquisitions for infrastructure projects he said would only lead to more evictions and demolitions.
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