Senate opens plenary debate on 2020 budget
Sen. Sonny Angara sponsored the General Appropriations Bill for 2020 on the floor, where he lauded his colleagues for further raising the “compassion index” of the measure by hiking allocations for social services.
Senate opens plenary debate on 2020 budget
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate started yesterday plenary deliberations on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year, which prioritizes health, education and social sectors.

Sen. Sonny Angara sponsored the General Appropriations Bill for 2020 on the floor, where he lauded his colleagues for further raising the “compassion index” of the measure by hiking allocations for social services.

He gave assurance that the amendments to education, health and social welfare programs in the spending bill are “targeted and transparent.”

He said there is “a bipartisan consensus” to increase funds for the repair of earthquake-damaged schools, school vouchers, free college, school feeding, help for indigent patients and the deployment of nurses and doctors to poor areas, among others.

Angara said the “budgetary augmentations” were recommended by the vice chairpersons of the committee “upon the request of the departments.”

Upon the recommendation of Sens. Pia Cayetano and Ralph Recto, the Department of Education budget was increased by P6.2 billion to prevent the dropping out of senior high school students studying in private schools using government vouchers.

The amount will also bankroll the completion of the equipment, facility and teaching needs of hard-to-reach “Last Mile Schools” as well as the conservation of the heritage Gabaldon school buildings, the senator said.

For higher education, Angara said the Senate “has filled the large holes” in the Commission on Higher Education budget by increasing the funds for the Student Financial Assistance Program by P8.5 billion.

The same amount is also added to next year’s implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

Through the intervention of Sen. Joel Villanueva, research grants were raised to P116 million, distributed across the state universities and colleges (SUCs) and the University of the Philippines System.

“We also appropriate P167 million for cash grants of our medical scholars in SUCs,” Angara said.

In recognition of how technology has rapidly been integrated into all aspects of life, including in the antiquated bureaucracy, the Department of Information and Communications Technology – through the efforts of Sen. Panfilo Lacson – was provided with an additional P4 billion for its programs such as the building of digital classrooms, workforce, workplace and communities and free WiFi in public spaces.

Other “boosted health expenditures,” Angara said, include the P9.439-billion fund for aiding poor patients in both private and public hospitals.

To prevent the mass layoff of nurses, doctors, midwives and other health professionals deployed to “underdeveloped and unserved” areas, the Senate finance panel allotted P7 billion for their continued employment in 2020.

“We are also funding affordable but critical medical projects like a 24-hour mental health hotline to be manned by qualified health professionals,” he said.

Angara said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s budget for its flagship Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of P108.7 billion would help the department “comply with the recently passed law institutionalizing the program.”

He credited Sen. Imee Marcos for supporting the increase in the budget of the DSWD’s Supplementary Feeding Program from P3.6 billion to P6.6 billion to ensure children in pre-school, kindergarten and public day care centers are provided with hot meals, an advocacy of Sen. Grace Poe.

Angara said “poverty amelioration” expenditures, in the form of subsidies and grants, are also included in the budget of other agencies such as the Department of Agriculture.

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