MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is grateful that the House of Representatives has approved on second reading the proposed P1.645-trillion national budget for 2011, keeping intact President Aquino’s P21-billion centerpiece program for cash transfers to the poor.
“Of course, we welcome the development,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told government-run radio dzRB, in reference to the chamber’s quick approval of the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2011.
The Aquino administration also assuaged fears that the lump sums allocated to several agencies will not go to the intended recipients, contrary to insinuations made by former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“With regard to the lump sum appropriations, there is a mechanism in place to make sure that the money will go to where it is allocated. The Department of Budget and Management has a mechanism for this,” Valte said.
Valte also lauded the congressmen who worked hard to finish deliberating the budget.
By way of viva voce, the House approved early Saturday morning the P1.645-trillion proposed national budget for 2011, without any cuts on the allocation for the controversial P21-billion conditional cash transfer program.
Speaking after the approval of House Bill 3101, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. told his colleagues that the approval of the budget was not the end of the process yet, but a “part of it, and the big portion will be done in the committee on appropriations.”
The Speaker, an ally of the President in the Liberal Party, thanked his colleagues for actively participating in the process.
“During all the nine years that I have worked as a member of this Congress from 1992 to 2001, this is the first time that a greater majority, big quorum was present while the budget deliberation was taking place. Some of the media observed that virtually every session day has 200 people present. I am amazed that we have debates here among friends,” Belmonte said.
There was an air of excitement among members of the House when the session was adjourned at around 3:03 a.m. Saturday. They even had a photo session with Belmonte.
Session will resume on Nov. 8.
In an interview, House appropriations committee chairman and Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya said the committee will study the proposed amendments during the break, when realignments happen.
“The real amendments, the pen pushing happens during the break, the amendments will be actualized come third reading,” he said, adding that he hasn’t had the chance to sit down and read the recommended amendments.
Before the adjournment, the chamber created the committee that will discuss the amendments, composed of Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya, Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong, and Abaya.
Carandang gets fund
Included in the budget was President Aquino’s P50-million allocation for the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, headed by former broadcaster Ricky Carandang.
The allocation was part of the P4-billion outlay for the Office of the President (OP).
Carandang’s office and its appropriation were not included in the President’s budget proposal, which necessitated Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to submit an “errata” to the House so it could be included in the 2011 budget before the chamber approved the President’s proposed spending program on second reading.
Mr. Aquino took the funds for Carandang’s office from his P650-million intelligence budget, which he reduced by P250 million.
He allotted P83 million to the Truth Commission and set aside the balance as “capital outlay,” the budget language for equipment or building funds.
Carandang is one of three Palace officials authorized to speak for the President. The two others are presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Herminio Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, which replaced the Office of Press Secretary.
All three hold the rank and receive the salary of a Cabinet member.
Carandang’s funds are peanuts compared to the nearly P1 billion that Coloma controls, which includes appropriations for several propaganda agencies like the Philippine Information Agency and Bureau of Broadcast Services, the office that operates government radio stations.
Of the three, only Lacierda does not have a separate budget. His funds are subsumed under the OP proper.
There were earlier reports that a P200-million budget was being proposed for Carandang. - With Jess Diaz