90% of agency budgets already released – Abad
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - About 90 percent of the budgets of all departments and agencies of the national government for this year have been released, raising the likelihood of swifter implementation of vital projects.

This was according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who explained that the early release of funds was made possible by the implementation of a policy last year of treating the General Appropriations Act or the national budget as the “release document.”

“Once approved and in effect, all disaggregated items in the budgets of all agencies are deemed effectively released,” Abad said.

The tack, he stressed, “results in faster delivery of public goods and services, which will be to the benefit of our people.”

He said the policy “will further accelerate the already much improved pace of government spending” as well as ensure that most projects are implemented before the election ban on public works on March 25.

Abad cited the case of the Department of Public Works and Highways, which hoped to kick off at least half of its projects early this year. “We can expect 50 percent of infrastructure projects under the DPWH to be issued notices of award by the first quarter of 2016. This amounts to P187.86 billion and is higher than their actual obligation rate of 39 percent or P111.14 billion for the same period last year,” he pointed out.

Previously, the DBM had to issue a fund release document called SARO or Special Allotment Release Order after the enactment of the budget program.

The SARO served as the authority of agencies to obligate funds and start their procurement process.

Under the new policy, the budget as passed by Congress and signed by the President is itself the release document.

Abad said the policy has allowed agencies to advance their pre-procurement activities.

The budget chief also predicted growth momentum to continue this year.

He said growth drivers include the early start of government infrastructure projects, election spending and spending related to the opening of classes in June.

To highlight the first year implementation of the K-12 program is the hiring of thousands of teachers and non-teaching personnel, he said.

Furthermore, the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education program “is being expanded to more than a million students,” he said.

Administration critics have criticized the early release of funds to agencies, claiming the money would be used for election purposes. 

Alternate funding

Meanwhile, former health officials and family planning advocates have called on President Aquino to find other funding sources for the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, the budget for which this year has been cut by P1 billion.

“Our appeal is if the President is really supportive of reproductive health, he will find a way to fund the RH Law,” former health chief Esperanza Cabral said yesterday. 

According to Cabral, Aquino appeared to have not been properly informed of the plans of the Senate to slash the budget for contraceptives.

“If you are a president who relies on many people to provide correct information and guidance on the basis of which you are going to make a decision, it is possible na nalusutan siya (he’d been had),” Cabral noted.

Former health secretary Enrique Ona said the Department of Health (DOH) may have also failed to strictly monitor budget deliberations, hence its being unaware of the budget cut.

“We must know the process until the time the president signs it (the proposed national budget). And as a matter of fact, when a law is passed it is also necessary to monitor the implementing rules and regulations,” Ona explained.

But Cabral said there were apparently no bicameral meetings held prior to the budget cut initiated by Sen. Vicente Sotto III.

Cabral warned that the lack of budget for implementing the RH Law could lead to a rise in maternal mortality in the country because fewer women, particularly teenagers, would have access to contraceptives.

“We let down our guard. So next time we should not be calmed in monitoring and protecting the law, but the problem is there is no process because the bicam committee did not meet as a committee,” she said.

Cabral said she expected RH Law advocates to mount a campaign to encourage voters to choose candidates with sincere commitment to protect public health. 

Former congressman Edcel Lagman also urged Aquino to set aside part of his contingency fund for the implementation of the RH Law.

Lagman said the government would not be begging for funds had the Senate provided the needed budget for the reproductive health program.

“There is really no reason for the budget cut,” he said. – With Mayen Jaymalin

ABAD ACIRC AQUINO BUDGET BUDGET SECRETARY FLORENCIO ABAD BUT CABRAL CABRAL DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS EDCEL LAGMAN HEALTH
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