Based on the bicameral conference committee (bicam) report containing the final version of the spending bill, lawmakers have increased funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) by P216 million to P664 million.
Cesar Ramirez
Congress increases Leni’s budget by P216 M
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - March 24, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo will have more money to spend for her projects this year and for financial assistance to the poor if the proposed 2019 national budget is finally enacted.

Based on the bicameral conference committee (bicam) report containing the final version of the spending bill, lawmakers have increased funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) by P216 million to P664 million.

It’s the highest ever allocation for the so-called “spare tire” for the presidency. Broadcaster Noli de Castro had less than the increase Robredo’s office is getting when he was the vice president of former president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In the budget he proposed to Congress in July 2018, President Duterte recommended P448 million for Robredo, who heads the unified opposition.

Although the House of Representatives approved the OVP outlay as recommended by the President, the Senate increased it.

Under the budget endorsed by the President and the Department of Budget and Management, the bulk of the OVP funding – P350 million – will go to maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE). Some P103 million is for salaries, while the rest is for vehicles.

Of the P350 million allocated for Robredo’s MOOE, P197 million is for “financial assistance/subsidy.” This appropriation is OVP’s source of money for assistance to the poor and for the procurement of relief goods for calamity victims and similar projects.

Robredo has P33 million for consultants, P25 million for traveling expenses, P12 million for rentals, P27 million for representation and P15.5 million for supplies and materials.

She has rental expenses because her office is renting a mansion owned by the Quezon City government in the New Manila area. Another rented mansion is for her security team.

The P216-million increase the Senate gave her office would most likely be an augmentation for her “financial assistance/subsidy fund” or pork barrel.

As for the President’s office, lawmakers approved the P6.8 billion that Duterte recommended.

The Senate increased its budget by P1.7 billion to P6.3 billion, while the House has P12.7 billion, the same level endorsed by the President.

Like the Senate, the Commission on Appointments is getting an augmentation amounting to P73 million, raising its budget to P842 million. Composed of 13 senators and 12 House members, the commission is chaired by the Senate president.

The two chambers are still quarreling over alleged pork barrel insertions in the proposed budget for this year.

Their representatives are meeting tomorrow to try to resolve the feud as members of the House minority pleaded with congressional leaders to resolve the impasse.

“We urge our fellow lawmakers to look at the bigger picture and consider the long-term effects of the re-enacted 2018 budget,” Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said, warning that the delay in the enactment of the spending bill for this year would severely affect economic growth.

He also said that the implementation of major projects funded under the 2019 outlay has been deferred.

“More importantly, provision of basic social services is likewise delayed,” Suarez stressed.

He added that many of their poor constituents whom they refer to the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development and public hospitals for help go home empty-handed.                    

Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza said the quarrel between the Senate and the House centers on what could be considered as lump sum appropriations or an itemized budget.

“It seems that the Senate wants lump sums, while the House advocates itemization. If it is the Senate that allocates funds, it is called ‘institutional amendment.’ If it is the House, it is labeled pork barrel,” he said.

In any Congress or parliament around the world, lawmakers propose funds and projects for their districts or constituencies, he added. 

“There is nothing wrong with pork barrel. The term has a bad connotation because of the Napoles scam,” Atienza opined, referring to the multibillion-peso pork barrel scandal involving Janet Lim-Napoles, former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., and scores of other former and incumbent lawmakers. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe

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