The bicameral committee is convened to allow the Senate and the House to reconcile the conflicting version of a bill they have approved, in this case, the GAB.
Michael Varcas
Senators brush off budget dagdag-bawas
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators have brushed off allegations from a leader of the House of Representatives that they lopped off P3 billion in the fund meant to procure palay from local farmers in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year, saying the allocation was intact.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Sonny Angara yesterday said the P3 billion out of the total P10 billion put in by the House was simply transferred to the Land Bank of the Philippines.

“Transferring funds from (the National Food Authority) to Land Bank is not ‘dagdag-bawas (padding-shaving).’ What I know is that (transfer) was an institutional amendment,” Sotto told reporters.

Sotto was referring to claims by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda that the P3-billion cut was part of the “P235-billion dagdag-bawas” that senators made in the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

Angara said the amendment was proposed by Sen. Cynthia Villar, who chairs the finance sub-committee for agriculture, and the P3 billion lodged in Land Bank will still be used for procurement of palay.

Angara added that the realignment is still being fine-tuned and that the Senate contingent to the bicameral conference committee on the GAB would justify the move with their House counterparts when they resume meeting this week.

The bicameral committee is convened to allow the Senate and the House to reconcile the conflicting version of a bill they have approved, in this case, the GAB.

President Duterte suggested P7 billion for the NFA for palay procurement in the budget or the National Expenditure Program (NEP) he proposed to Congress last August.

A special provision in the NEP states that the funds “shall be used for the implementation of the rice buffer

stocking program… (the) buffer stock shall be sourced solely from local farmers.”

The House augmented NFA’s palay procurement fund by P3 billion, increasing it to P10 billion, before submitting the GAB to the Senate last September.

The Senate approved the GAB last Wednesday but not before making billions of pesos worth of amendments by cutting appropriations to underspending agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

Angara said the chamber augmented the budget of the Department of Education for its Education Service Contracting Program to fund the proposed increase in the Teacher Salary Subsidy; additional allocation for National Assessment Systems for Basic Education, Basic Education Curriculum, Literacy and Numeracy Program, Student Assistance Program for those who excel in sports, Special Education Program, Voucher Program for Non-DepEd Public Schools and School-Based Feeding Program.

He added that the budget of the Department of Health was also increased to support the agency’s vaccination drive and other programs to protect children.

Additional funds have also been set aside under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund to upgrade the salaries of Nurse I and Nurse II positions, in compliance with the October 2019 Supreme Court decision upgrading the minimum salary of government nurses (Nurse I) from Salary Grade 11 to SG 15, pursuant to Republic Act 9173.

Appropriation for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. for the implementation of the Universal Health Care law was also increased.

Senators had earlier said they would have the DOTr’s proposed P147-billion budget for 2020 slashed by at least P60 billion because of its poor disbursement record.

Sen. Bong Go had earlier said Duterte had ordered the DOTr and other concerned agencies to speed up the completion of their infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build program so that the public can benefit from them.

Go said he would be the first to investigate any whiff of corruption or irregularities in such projects.

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