MANILA, Philippines — A proposal to give the funds slashed by the House of Representatives from the budgets of the Commission on Human Rights, National Commission on Indigenous People and Energy Regulatory Commission to finance free higher education was slammed by opposition lawmakers.
Davao Representative Karlo Nograles, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said the amounts taken from the three allocation of the three agencies, which were granted only P1,000 each for 2018 by the chamber, would go to the fund pool for the implementation of the newly-signed Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education law.
The CHR has a proposed budget of P649.48 million; the NCIP, P1.13 billion; the ERC, P350.9 million.
“The fund needed to finance the free education law is P42.5 billion,” Nograles noted.
But since there is no specific appropriation in the proposed 2018 national budget for free college education, Nograles’ committee has had to source funds from agencies and departments that have low utilization rates, are slow in spending their budgets, and those which suffered huge budget cuts.
The House has approved the proposed P3.767-trillion national budget on second reading but the Senate is still deliberating the appropriations bill.
Asked how the House intends to harmonize its version of the budget with that of the Senate after senators vowed to restore the slashed budgets, Nograles said: “Let’s cross the bridge when we get there.”
Reacting to Nograles’ proposal, Akbayan party-list Representative Tom Villarin called the plan an attempt to “soften the criticism” of various groups, especially over the CHR budget.
“Nice try Karlo, but it ain’t cute,” Villarin said. “You can’t cut the budget of a constitutional body then to soften criticism [and] bestow it to a supposed loftier cause like free tuition. Educating people on the value of human rights should start with our legislators.”
Gabriela party-list Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas said “ensuring funds for the youth’s right to education should not be at the expense of the institution that is mandated to uphold and promote the most basic of human rights, including the right to life.”
They said the House should instead take funds from the P2.5-billion intelligence fund of the Office of the President, P900 million for the anti-drug campaign called Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded, P500 million for the community-based intelligence network Masa Masid, and P56 billion for right-of-way acquisitions.
The House hopes to approve the budget on third and final reading on or before September 21.
Both chambers of Congress will then reconcile their versions of the budget in the bicameral conference committee.