P3.767 TRILLION | House clears 2018 natl budget on 223 to 9 vote

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HOR plenary hall
The plenary hall of the House of Representatives. PHIL. STAR FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – Voting 223-9, the House of Representatives approved the proposed 2018 national budget on third and final reading on Tuesday, September 26.

The proposed appropriations is P3.767 trillion, to be used for the Duterte administration’s massive infrastructure program, education, social services and the fight against illegal drugs.

The budget measure goes to the Senate for its own deliberation.

Magdalo partylist Representative Gary Alejano, one of the nine lawmakers who voted against it, said that, while the proposed budget aims to spur development, it also funds the government’s war on illegal drugs, which, he pointed out, is “based on dubious and questionable data, and lacks the holistic approach to address the root causes of the drug problem.”

Other lawmakers who voted against the budget included Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza and the seven partylist Representatives from the Makabayan bloc: Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna; Emmie de Jesus and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela; Antonio Tinio and France Castro of ACT Teachers; Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis; and, Sara Elago of Kabataan.

Brosas branded the budget as “Destroy, Destroy, Destroy,” in a counter-allusion to the administration’s infrastructure mantra “Build, Build, Build,” citing the uncertainty towards better lives for the people and the threat of demolition and displacement of thousands of families to be affected by infrastructure projects.

Tinio said the plenary voted without letting the members know about the amendments made by the small committee tasked to finalize the bill.

Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, while voting for the budget, criticized the slash on the appropriations of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The House earlier gave the CHR a P1,000 budget for purportedly not doing its mandate, but reconsidered at the last minute.

However, the appropriations committee did not fully restore the P649.48 million CHR’s original proposed new appropriations, giving it only P508.5 million.

“For this House to further reduce the CHR budget only sends the wrong signal about the importance of human rights. We must strengthen the institution, not weaken it,” Del Mar said.

According to Lagman, the “obliterated amount” for the CHR consisted of P47.040-M for human rights protection; P24.441-M for human rights promotion; P33.392-M for human rights policy advisory; and P10-M for equipment capital outlay.

“With its slashed budget, the CHR will be hampered in its human rights protection and promotion advocacy and programs,” Lagman said.

Davao Rep. Karlo Nograles, chairperson of the appropriations committee, said adjustments were made on the budget bill to provide for the inclusion of a P40 billion allocation for the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act” or the Free Higher Education Law.

“We have considered at least two major factors in making our adjustments. One is urgency and another is capacity. We carved out budgets depending on the urgency of certain projects and programs that require allocation and depending on the capacity of implementing agencies to really put their funds to good use,” Nograles said.

He acknowledged that one of the agencies that suffered the biggest cut was the Department of Education (DepEd), with at least P30 billion being taken out of its school building program on an original allocation of P122.96 billion.

Despite this, he said the education sector remains the office with biggest allocation, at P710.5 billion, with P583.1 billion going to the Department of Education; P61.6 billion going to State Universities and Colleges (SUCs); P49.9 billion for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED); and, P6.9 billion for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Next to the education sector in terms of allocation is the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at P639.8 billion.

Following DPWH with P172.3 billion allocation is the Department of Interior and Local Government; Department of Health with P164.5 billion; Department of National Defense with P145 billion; Department of Social Welfare Development with P137.1 billion; Department of Transportation with P67.9 billion; Department of Agriculture with P54.2 billion; the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao with P33.5 billion and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with P27.9 billion.