Senate approves 2014 national budget on third and final reading
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MANILA, Philippines – Voting 16-0, without abstention, the Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading the P1.608 trillion in new appropriations under the national budget for 2014, exclusive of P656.3 billion in automatic appropriations that do not pass the congressional hurdle. Taken together, they make for a total P2.264-trillion national expenditures program (NEP).
“With 16 affirmative votes, no negative votes and no abstention, the 2014 national budget under House Bill No. 2630 and Committee Report No. 5, is hereby approved on third and final reading,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said.
The total new appropriations of P1.608 trillion approved by the Senate is P3.2 billion lower than the original version submitted by the House of Representatives, or P1.611 trillion.
The difference of P3.2 billion came from the pork barrel of 15 senators who gave up their individual Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations amounting to P200 million each, and from Vice President Jejomar Binay.
After voting to approve the budget, the Senate likewise elected members of its contingent to the Bicameral Conference Committee: Senators Francis Escudero, Serge Osmena, Loren Legarda, Teofisto Guingona III, Ralph Recto, Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada and Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.
P100-billion disaster fund
Meanwhile, Escudero said he is looking at a P100-billion disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction fund for 2014, to be presented during the Bicameral Conference Committee on the national budget next week.
Escudero, Senate Finance committee chairman, said there is a fiscal space to increase the original Palace proposal for calamity funds amounting to P7.5 billion. The Senate version is for a P13-billion calamity fund.
He initially proposed the creation of a special fund for disaster rehabilitation, increasing the Senate-approved version to P20 billion.
“Upon further review of the budget we found more flexibility to further increase the proposed P20-billion rehabilitation funds. It now stands to amount to 100 billion. The components are: P80 billion from unprogrammed funds, P20 billion from programmed funds,” he explained.
Escudero said there is as yet no final estimate of the amount needed to rehabilitate and reconstruct the areas wiped out not only by typhoon Yolanda, but other past disasters, but initial cost estimates are already staggering.
Latest estimates from the National Disaster Risk Management Council (NDRRMC) pegs Yolanda’s damage alone at P22.6 billion, with damage to infrastructure at P11.9 billion and agriculture, P10.7 billion.
“The cataclysmic force that hit our country requires serious response to influence significant rehabilitation and reconstruction of the communities barrelled by catastrophes. We need to infuse major financial foundation to recoup and retain the physical, economic and social viability of these communities,” the senator said.
As this developed, Escudero said the finance committee will begin hearing Thursday the proposed measures for a supplemental budget to augment the 2013 disaster relief fund.
This year’s calamity fund amounts to P7.5 billion, and Escudero and fellow senators said this is already almost depleted to obligate rescue, relief, and rehabilitation and reconstruction requirements of communities struck and displaced by disasters.
“We are on track; we will pass the budget on time. It is critical that we must because this budget fuels not only the entire government machinery but also our capability and capacity as a nation,” the senator explained.