Budget ratified; tax reform bill on hold

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate and the House of Representatives last night ratified the final version of the proposed P3.8-trillion 2018 national budget.

The two chambers, however, failed to ratify the report on the proposed tax reform bill, officially called Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), which would impose a P6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity generation over three years starting on Jan. 1.

The TRAIN conference committee was still putting finishing touches on the measure.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has vowed to approve the two important measures before the end of the year.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, House appropriations committee chairman, said President Duterte is scheduled to sign the budget bill by Tuesday next week.

Nograles said among the major changes the two chambers agreed upon were the provision of an additional P1,000 cash allowance for public school teachers – raising the amount from P2,500 to P3,500 per month – additional P10 million for each of 115 state universities and colleges and the allocation of P40 billion for free tertiary education in SUCs.

“Now, there is no stopping free college education in the country. This is truly a legacy-defining measure for the Duterte administration, and its implementation will be made possible through the 2018 national budget,” Nograles said.

He said PhilHealth was given an additional subsidy of P3.5 billion “for the health care benefits of employees in the executive branch.”

Lack of transparency

The Senate ratification was not without controversy.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson both questioned the lack of transparency by the Senate committee on finance, which provided them with a report of the bicameral conference committee but without any explanation of the details of the changes made to the budget measure.

Both Drilon and Lacson revealed that they received the bicam report late Monday and did not have time to go through it before yesterday’s plenary session.

The report also contained mere figures of the changes made during the bicam meetings but not the details of these changes.

Drilon said that it was his understanding that upon the request of Lacson, the bicam contingent of the Senate would provide them with a briefing on what was agreed upon during the meetings.

Drilon said he would air his dissent to the bicam report “on the issue of transparency.”

Lacson, who pushed for the removal of P86 billion from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways for projects which he said could not yet be implemented because of pending road right-of-way issues, noted that the agency ended up with even more funds and he has no idea how it happened.

During the initial bicam meetings, the Senate panel offered a compromise to bring down the cuts introduced by Lacson to P50 billion, but the House panel still found this unacceptable.

“What are the details? It was not only restored, but even increased by P11 billion. So I need to see the details. Where did the funds go? Which congressmen or senators were credited with these?” Lacson said. 

“I want to see (the details). It’s not here. It’s all summary. While I was studying this, they called for a bicam (meeting). I did not attend, why would I attend when I have not even studied the summary,” he added.

From P626.7 billion that was approved by the House, the bicam approved a P637.8-billion budget for the DPWH or a net increase of P11 billion.

For the Department of the Interior and Local Government, under which the budget of the Philippine National Police is found, the Senate, in its version, removed P900 million for the Oplan Double Barrel and P500 million for the Masa Masid program or a total of P1.4 billion after President Duterte made the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency the lead agency in the war against drugs.

In the bicam report, the PNP ended up with a P1 billion increase in its budget.

The Department of Justice was granted an increase of P1.17 billion while the Department of Health was given an additional P2.37 billion.

The Department of National Defense’s budget was increased by P4.95 billion while the Department of Social Welfare and Development saw an increase in its budget by P4.8 billion. – Paolo Romero

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