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Legarda: 2018 Budget is Pro-People, Needs-Based

December 4, 2017

Senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said that the 2018 General Appropriations Bill is a pro-people and needs-based budget.

“In reviewing the 2018 national budget, we scrutinized every item to ensure that we are funding the needs of the people, that it supports the infrastructure program of the government and also takes care of the human capital so that economic growth addresses the needs of the poorest sector. When we address the basic needs of the people, we also curb crime, violence and illegal drugs,” said Legarda.

The Senate and the House of Representatives have already convened the bicameral conference committee to reconcile the differences in their respective versions of the budget. Legarda said she is optimistic that the shared advocacies of both chambers will prevail amid initial differences.

Among the highlights of the Senate version is increasing to Php51 Billion the allocation for the implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which would pave the way for free college education in all of the country’s state universities and colleges (SUCs), local universities and colleges (LUCs) and state-run technical-vocational institutions.

The Senate also provided additional Php10 Million for capital outlay for each SUC to address their infrastructure and equipment needs, and Php327 Million for free Wi-Fi in SUCs and public places. There is also Php250 Million funding under the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for free tuition for medical students enrolled in SUCs.

“We also ensured that our teachers’ and students’ basic needs are addressed. The Senate provided additional Php1.8 Billion to increase chalk or cash allowance of teachers from Php2,500 to Php5,000 per teacher. This is intended for the purchase of classroom supplies like chalk, markers, paper, erasers and other materials. We also provided additional Php2.5 Billion for the school-based feeding program to improve the nutritional status of the targeted student beneficiaries,” said Legarda.

For healthcare, the Senate upheld the budget for the Universal Healthcare Program so that all Filipinos are covered by the PhilHealth’s Point-of-Service program. It further allocated Php6.5 Billion for PhilHealth Plus for the health insurance of government employees under the Executive Branch.

“At present, government workers in the Executive are covered by PhilHealth for hospitalization, but when they need to undergo check-up, laboratory procedures, and other preventive healthcare procedures, they pay out of their own pocket. In the Legislature, employees have health insurance plans. Now, through the funding for PhilHealth Plus, government employees in the Executive will receive the same benefits,” Legarda explained.

To improve social services, aside from maintaining the Php89 Billion budget for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program, Legarda also included additional Php3 Billion in the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). This will fund the rehabilitation of social welfare and activity centers and Bahay Pagasa juvenile detentions.

“We should treat everyone with respect and dignity, including the poor. Our social welfare and activity centers serve as temporary homes for the underprivileged men, women, children, and elderly to support them until such time that they could get back on their feet. By rehabilitating and establishing new centers, we reinforce the DSWD’s capability to accommodate and serve more families,” she said.

The Senator said farmers will also benefit from the 2018 national budget as the Senate continued the Php2 Billion subsidy of irrigation service fees (ISF) being paid by farmers to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). This was first introduced in the 2017 national budget.

Moreover, under the Department of Agriculture (DA), Php2.669 Billion was earmarked for the construction, restoration or improvement of small-scale irrigation projects and Php4.281 Billion for the construction of facilities and procurement of agricultural machineries and equipment.

The Senate also provided additional funds to boost livelihoods and the development of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), including the additional Php800 Million for the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Shared Service Facilities (SSF), which intends to increase the productivity of MSMEs by giving them access to efficient technologies, skills, knowledge, and systems.

For the rehabilitation of Marawi City, the Senate provided Php10 Billion allocation under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Fund intended for the city’s quick recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. This amount is on top of the Php5 Billion already allocated for this year.

The Senate also approved Php60 Billion for the increase of base pay of military and uniformed personnel, which is much needed to better compensate soldiers and policemen who maintain national security and peace and order.

Unpaid pension that the government owes surviving spouses of World War II veterans will now be fully paid under the 2018 budget as the Senate allocated Php1.647 Billion for the payment of total administrative disability (TAD) arrears. Meanwhile, additional Php372 Million was allocated under the Bureau of Corrections for additional prison facilities.

Legarda said that since the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) will now lead the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, the Php900 Million and Php500 Million for the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Oplan Double Barrel and MASA MASID, respectively, were realigned. Php1.35 Billion was transferred to the PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Housing Program; while the Php50 Million was earmarked as additional budget for acquisition of body cameras of police officers.

The Senate also provided additional Php120 Million in the Philippine Coast Guard budget for buoys in coast guard stations, especially in the Philippine Rise.

Meanwhile, the foreign service is the country’s first line of defense in the global arena. Thus, the Senate increased the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) by Php783 Million for additional funding of existing consular offices and embassies, opening of new consulates, cultural diplomacy programs, training programs, and hazard pay of DFA employees in hardship posts, among others.

The Senator also said that the 2018 General Appropriations Bill ensures ecological integrity, clean and healthy environment, risk-sensitive investments, and disaster preparedness through special provisions that integrate and mainstream disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in government programs.

“We firmly believe that building an inclusive and prosperous economy requires us to continually strengthen our resilience to impacts of natural hazards and climate change,” she stressed.

Among the special and general provisions that the Senate approved are the following:

·      Status of Infrastructure Projects. All agencies of government with infrastructure projects shall post the status of the said projects, including geo-tagged photos on their respective official website. Further, agencies shall post the following details of the projects: name of contractor; location of the project; project cost; start of construction and target date of completion; description of the project; source of fund; implementing office, responsible official, and contact number and email; completion date; project status (in case of delay, state the reason/s); and such information that the Commission on Audit (COA) may require.

·      DRR and CCAM Measures Incorporated in All Agency Projects. All agencies of government should implement projects incorporating disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation and mitigation (CCAM).

To ensure that the DRR and CCA measures are appropriate in light of intensifying hazards, all national government projects should be subject to multi-scenario, probabilistic analysis.

Agencies shall likewise integrate energy-savings solutions and consider climate resilience in the planning and implementation of all infrastructure projects, office programs, and activities, as well as assess their organizational carbon footprint and pursue appropriate emission reduction measures, to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, pursuant to the provisions of RA No. 9729.

·      Resettlement. Pursuant to RA No. 7279, local government units (LGUs), in coordination with the National Housing Authority (NHA), shall implement the relocation and resettlement of persons living in danger areas, such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways, and in other public places, such as sidewalks, roads, parks and playgrounds. The LGU, in coordination with NHA, shall provide relocation and resettlement sites with basic services and facilities and access to employment and livelihood opportunities sufficient to meet the basic needs of the affected families.

·      Conduct of Family Development Sessions. The DSWD, in the conduct of family development sessions among CCT beneficiaries, shall integrate in its program the protection of the environment, DRR and CCAM, including the preservation of the indigenous culture of their locality. The DSWD shall also conduct capacity building programs to prepare its beneficiaries for the onset of natural hazards.

·      AFP Resilience Fund. The amount of Php100 Million will fund the implementation of risk assessments of AFP facilities and installations and the implementation of climate and disaster resilience pilot project in vital military installations, including the development of the AFP climate and disaster resilience toolkit.

·      Hazard Duty Pay. Subject to favorable recommendation of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director and approval of the Secretary of Justice, hazard pay not exceeding Php4,000 per month may be granted to officials, agents, investigators, and other personnel of the NBI who may be assigned in the investigation of cases, which expose them to great danger or risks, subject to budgeting, accounting, and auditing rules and regulations.

·      Mandatory Drills. The DILG shall require the LGUs to conduct regular evacuation drills in coastal communities that are at risk of storm surges and landslides to help ascertain proper response during actual disasters. These drills should simulate real emergencies and/or circumstances, which will prepare and train their respective constituents on basic survival skills, which will also in turn reduce panic.

·      Community Early Warning System. The DILG shall ensure that LGUs establish and maintain an efficient and effective early warning system to enable the individuals and communities threatened by typhoon, flood, tsunami, and other impending hazards to respond in a timely manner to reduce the possibility of harm or loss.

·      Prohibition against New Illegal Structures. The DILG shall ensure that municipal or city government units and barangays shall prevent the construction of any kind of illegal dwelling unit or structures within their respective localities.

·      Containment of the Cleared Areas. The concerned LGUs shall be responsible for preventing the construction of any kind of structures or illegal dwelling units in the areas that have been cleared and shall ensure that the vacated areas are not reoccupied.

·      Evacuation Centers. In the design and construction of evacuation centers, the DILG and DPWH shall ensure that the centers can withstand wind speed of 300 kph and moderate seismic activity of at least 8.0 magnitude on the Richter scale; utilize natural ventilation and rainwater through the inclusion of rainwater catchment/harvesting system; and include facilities for the special needs of women, children, the elderly, PWDs, and such other physical provisions guaranteeing a humane condition for evacuees.

·      Comprehensive Land Use Plan of LGUs. The LGUs, with the assistance of the DILG, shall take into consideration the vulnerability and risk assessment of the DENR in developing the comprehensive land use plan and in enacting the appropriate zoning ordinances.

·      Renewable Energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) shall strengthen the development and utilization of renewable and environment-friendly alternative energy resources or technologies.

·      School-Based Feeding Program (SBFP). In the implementation of the SBFP, ingredients for the provision of food commodities shall be sourced locally. Public schools, whenever applicable, shall endeavor to procure these ingredients from any of the following local sources: the school’s vegetable garden established under the Gulayan sa Paaralan Program; home and communal gardens established by the families of SBFP beneficiaries; and local farmers, especially those identified by the DSWD to be living in poverty under the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR).

·      Resilience of Agricultural Communities. The DA shall endeavor to increase the resilience of agricultural communities through the implementation of disaster-resilient agricultural infrastructure projects and the distribution and development of seeds, which are optimally adaptive to present and future climate conditions.

·      Cultural and Heritage Mapping. The amount under Cultural and Heritage Mapping shall be used as financial assistance to LGUs to conduct, in coordination with National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), a cultural mapping of their tangible and intangible heritage, which shall form part of the national registry to be maintained by the NCCA.