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Legarda: 2017 Budget Will Help Deliver Change Filipinos Want

November 14, 2016

Senator Loren Legarda today said that the proposed 2017 National Budget worth P3.350 trillion will help deliver the change that Filipinos want.

 

“Our proposed 2017 budget sets bold plans to meet not just today’s needs, but one that looks beyond 2017, one that contributes to delivering long-term solutions to the country’s long-term problems,” said Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, during her sponsorship speech on the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

 

Stressing that the budget is the lifeblood of the nation, Legarda said government must ensure that the resources allocated to deliver programs are not only spent, but also spent well.

 

She noted that as of June 30, 2016, total unobligated allotments under the 2015 GAA amount to P156.98 Billion. The said amount is only valid until the end of 2016.

 

“Our budget is our investment for the future. It is supposed to construct new mass transport systems, new airports, road systems, and schools. They are supposed to fund services for the sick and poor; provide electricity to our people; and build irrigation for our farmers,” said Legarda, explaining that the unspent amount could have built 678,662 decent houses for the poor; 29,276 kilometers of farm-to-market roads; more than 215,000 classrooms with toilets and furniture; or could have put more than three million students through university.

 

“Underspending simply means missed opportunities. We wish to encourage that we all work together and provide the people what is due them. We are proposing a budget that provides a disincentive to hoard funds by limiting executive discretion to impound funds, in accord with the decision of the Supreme Court. This budget will also clearly define the conditions under which savings may be declared, compliant with the decision of the Supreme Court,” she explained.

 

One of the general provisions in the proposed budget is setting a One-year Availability timeframe of Appropriations under the 2017 GAA to instill a sense of urgency among government agencies in utilizing their budget to the last peso.

 

The Senator stressed that the proposed budget for next year seeks to deliver results and ensure the delivery of services and benefits that will be felt by all Filipinos.

 

“The highest poverty incidence in the country is in Mindanao and this budget takes a conscious effort to address that. Meanwhile, as a people’s budget for real change, P1.345 trillion or 40% of the entire budget is being proposed to deliver social services that will address the most basic needs of our people,” said Legarda.

 

P151.5 billion is being proposed to fund health services, including the hiring of doctors, midwives and nurses to service the needs of our poorest communities in the country; build more hospitals; and procure medicines. Rehabilitation centers for drug dependents will be built as part of government efforts to find a lasting solution to our war on drugs.

 

Funding for education is set at the level of P699.95 billion to finance the construction of classrooms, hire more teachers, and procure instructional materials; while P78.7 billion is set to support a comprehensive social investment package in the form of the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, targeting 4.4 million eligible beneficiaries in 2017. The 2017 budget also provides social pension to all indigent senior citizens, age 60 and above.

 

A leap in infrastructure spending is one of the priorities of the 2017 budget given its indispensable role in poverty reduction, raising productivity, and in spreading the benefits of economic growth. P860.7 billion pesos for infrastructure development, equivalent to 5.4% of our GDP, is provided under the budget for next year.

 

Meanwhile, the Senate amendments include: P3 billion increase in the Philhealth budget so that all Filipinos will now be covered by the universal healthcare program, while indigent patients will not have to pay for anything in government hospitals under the No Balance Billing (NBB) policy; P2 billion Irrigation Fees Subsidy in the budget of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) so that irrigation service fees will no longer be collected by NIA from farmers’ associations; and encourage enrolment in Science, Technology, Education, Agri-fisheries and Mathematics (STEAM) programs by supporting the grant of scholarships to students enrolled in priority courses in all State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).

 

The Senate also proposed P388 million for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to support a humane correctional system, and another P163 million for the Bureau of Corrections to increase prisoners’ daily subsistence allowance.

 

Moreover, in honor of our centenarians, the Senate has allocated P100 million for their one time cash grant.

 

Legarda also said that the budget adheres to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating the adverse effects of climate change, promoting peace and justice for all, and protecting the environment and biodiversity. It also provides funds needed for the integration and mainstreaming of Philippine arts and culture in the country’s educational system, as well support for the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

 

In conclusion, the Senator underscored the fact that Congress holds the power of the purse. “It is an empty power, however, if the purse strings are drawn tight by the government’s failure to spend all of its funds judiciously. The budget bill puts our people at the front and center of our agenda.  It aims not just to create growth, but ensures that everyone benefits from the growth we will create together.”