OP, OVP get more funds in 2016

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The budget for the Office of the President (OP) in 2016 will go up by P258.3 million, about 10 percent higher than this year’s P2.568 billion, as the House of Representatives appropriations committee endorsed yesterday the P2.8-billion proposed budget.

Of the endorsed P2.826 billion, almost P2 billion will be for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), which include P500 million in confidential and intelligence funds, P771.7 million for salaries and P97 million for capital outlay.

The other big items in the MOOE include P313.2 million for travel, P298 million for repairs and maintenance, P162.8 million for supplies and materials, and P139.3 million for representation.

The approval by the House appropriations committee, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, capped a two-hour hearing during which Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. answered questions on the use of funds sought for the office of President Aquino and other issues.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., for whom Ochoa worked as city administrator when the House leader was Quezon City mayor, briefly attended the hearing.

Asked about the travel budget and Aquino’s foreign trips, Ochoa said it is the President’s policy to minimize travel expenses and to be transparent about it.

“That’s why he visited four countries in Europe – Belgium, France, Germany, and Spain – in one swing last year so he would not go back to Manila and return, which would have been more costly,” he said.

As for the use of the OP intelligence fund, he said the Commission on Audit and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) have jointly issued disbursement guidelines, which the Palace is following.

Ochoa said Malacañang is reviewing the use of a P30-billion risk management fund to pay for government guarantees that are being claimed by private companies, including the Maynilad Water Services and Manila Water.

For him, the claims would most likely go to arbitration as he also told lawmakers that he does not know where to source more than P24 billion that the Supreme Court told the government to pay the builder of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.

The House also approved yesterday President Aquino’s proposal to increase by about P8 million the 2016 budget for the Office of the Vice President (OVP), which will go up from P222.6 million this year to P230.5 million by 2016.

The approval came after a brief presentation made by Binay’s chief of staff Benjamin Martinez Jr.

But Sen. Nancy Binay criticized the DBM for giving a ‘zero’ budget allocation for legal assistance to distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The DBM proposed only P30 million last year, when Binay asked for P100 million.

“Is this the way we treat the sacrifices of our OFWs? We give them zero budget when they remit billions to our economy?” Binay said in a statement.

She vowed to push for the legal fund during deliberations on the 2016 budget.

“It is clearer now that the government is insensitive to the plight of our OFWs,” Binay said as she cited the recent aborted move of the Bureau of Customs to open all balikbayan boxes.

Of the approved P230.5-million budget for the OVP, P47.5 million will be spent for salaries, P172.4 for MOOE and P2 million for capital outlay.

Out of his MOOE allocation, Binay can spend P23.9 million for travel, P14.2 million for consultants, P15 million for representation expenses and P88 million for “financial assistance/subsidy.”

Binay, who is seeking the presidency in the 2016 polls, is set to go against administration and Liberal Party (LP) bet Mar Roxas.

Some LP congressmen have described the Vice President’s financial assistance fund as pork barrel, which Binay could use for those who may seek his assistance, aside from using the travel budget for election campaign purposes.

In his presentation to the appropriations committee, Martinez said Binay would maximize the use of available resources in support of the priority areas outlined by the President in his State of the Nation Address (SONA), with particular regard to job creation, anti-corruption and social services, adding that “our working Vice President will continue to be an active and full-fledged partner of the President in national governance and leading the country to ensure a steady march towards lasting progress.”?Binay earlier left the Aquino administration, which he described as “palpak, manhid” (failure, insensitive).

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate sought more funds for the science and technology research programs of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to improve food production.

“Food security and agricultural productivity to help farmers must be among the government’s top concerns. We are lagging behind Asian countries in food production and we continue to import our prime staple, which is rice. We cannot even teach our small fruit growers how to preserve their produce,” Zarate said. With Christina Mendez

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