Congress cuts calamity fund by P4 billion

The Senate-House of Representatives conference committee that drafted the final version of the budget reduced the calamity fund for 2020 by P4 billion to only P16 billion.
BusinessWorld/File

MANILA, Philippines — The tweaking done by Congress in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year is so expansive it extended to the erstwhile calamity fund, now euphemistically called national disaster risk reduction and management fund.

As its name suggests, the President uses the appropriation for relief, relocation and rehabilitation operations during calamities.            

The Senate-House of Representatives conference committee that drafted the final version of the budget reduced the calamity fund for 2020 by P4 billion to only P16 billion.

President Duterte had proposed P20 billion, which the House had adopted in its version of the spending bill. 

Senators also kept the fund at P20 billion, but made a “bawas-dagdag” (cut-add) exercise, reducing it initially by P5 billion before restoring the same amount. This meant that the Senate removed projects and programs worth P5 billion and substituted these with different activities also worth P5 billion.                                

The conference committee, which is called the third chamber of Congress as it often has its own version of a proposed law, undertook the same exercise, cutting the Duterte-proposed calamity fund by P9 billion before returning P5 billion, or a net reduction of P4 billion.

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It included in its version a special provision specifying where the P5 billion would be used: “for recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction, aide and relief projects in the administrative regions of Region 11 (Davao area) and Region 12 (Socsargen) affected by the earthquakes in the last quarter of 2019.”

The provision further states, “Infrastructure projects under this program shall be implemented by the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), which may delegate the same to LGUs (local government units) with the capability to implement said projects by administration or by contract, through the execution of a MOA (memorandum of agreement).”

The diversion of the P5 billion to the Davao and Socsargen (South Cotabato-Sarangani-General Santos) regions means that next year’s calamity fund was effectively reduced to just P11 billion from P20 billion.

Some budget conferees have told journalists privately that there was no need to allocate quake-related money for the two regions, which they said could be helped with releases from the 2019 calamity fund, which also amounts to P20 billion.

They expressed doubt on whether next year’s budget could be used for calamities that happened this year.

 The P4-billion cut in the calamity fund went to a pool of reductions in agency appropriations and lump sums that funded the whopping P527 billion in realignments made by lawmakers.

The Department of Transportation suffered the biggest loss of P47 billion, while the Department of Public Works and Highways had the biggest gain of P51 billion. 

Lawmakers also took away P74 billion from the pension and gratuity fund and P6.8 billion from the miscellaneous personnel benefits fund.

Meanwhile, deputy speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said LGUs stand to get an additional P5.6 billion next year as their 40-percent share of earnings from the development of natural resources in their areas.

“The P5.6 billion, which is part of the 2020 budget, is 75 percent higher than the P3.2-billion allocation of LGUs from such income,” he said.

He said the Local Government Code provides that local governments are entitled to 40 percent of the national treasury’s gross earnings “from mining taxes, royalties from mineral reservations, forestry charges, and fees and revenues collected from energy resources” in their jurisdictions.

“Under the law, once the local governments receive their portions, they have to use the money to fund local development and livelihood projects,” Pimentel added.

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