Congress fails to ratify 2016 national budget

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Congress failed to ratify the bicameral conference committee report on the P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016, the last step required before the measure is transmitted to President for his review and signing.

Committee representatives from the Senate and the House of Representatives met for a final time yesterday at the Batasan complex in Quezon City, where the last remaining conflicting provisions in the respective versions approved by the two chambers were reconciled for the final version of the bill.

However, at the end of plenary session yesterday, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the committee report was not yet available for action by the senators.

Drilon said the ratification of the 2016 national budget would be taken up on Monday.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, said the printed copy of the national budget should be with the President for his review and signing next week.

“We are confident that the President will be able to sign the proposed 2016 national budget into law before Christmas. In a way, this is our gift to the people as we have introduced allocations and provisions that will benefit those who most need government support,” Legarda said.

The bicameral conference committee report was being voted yesterday to endorse the spending measure for plenary approval by the Senate and the House.

The vote was taken during the last meeting of the panel after the joint chairpersons, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, House appropriations committee chairman, and Legarda, briefed conferees on the changes they had agreed.

Ungab and Legarda were earlier authorized by the conference committee to thresh out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget and render a report.

On a motion presented by House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, the conferees approved the changes agreed on by the joint chairpersons.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the agreement reached by the two chambers is to pass the national budget on time.

“It will allow President Aquino to sign the spending bill before yearend and averts the possibility of the government running on a reenacted 2015 budget,” he said.

Albano said both Aquino and Congress did not want a reenacted budget “even though it would favor the administration, especially during an election season.”

Budget highlights

Among the highlights of the proposed national budget that was presented by Legarda were the increase in the allocation for the Department of Education to support the implementation of the K to 12 program, specifically for the construction of classrooms and the hiring of additional teachers.

Funds were provided for the special education for persons with disabilities, education for sustainable development and teachers’ training.

All state universities and colleges (SUCs) also received additional funding for the “TulongDunong” program, academic buildings, provision of equipment and other needed facilities.

Legarda said for the first time, the national budget would include funding for the payment of the total administrative disability (TAD) pension for surviving spouses of deceased World War II veterans and partial payment for TAD pension for living post-war veterans who are at least 80 years of age as of 2016.

Under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ budget, Legarda said capacity-building programs for the implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act would be given funding for first time.

Also included in the DENR budget is funding for the National Coral Restoration Program, which Legarda said she introduced in recognition of the Philippines being a maritime nation with 240 million hectares of marine area, the protection of marine ecosystems, primarily through massive coral restoration and as such should be a priority of government.

Legarda said the bicam also adopted the general and special provisions that would ensure the integration of disaster and climate resilience, environmental and heritage conservation and sustainability in the programs of various government agencies.

One of the provisions states that critical public infrastructure must be designed and built to be resilient to strong earthquakes, typhoons, flood and other extreme weather events. –  With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan

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