MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III will certify as urgent a P14.6-billion supplemental budget to boost relief and rehabilitation efforts in areas devastated by recent calamities, including Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and the Visayas earthquake.
This was according to Senate President Franklin Drilon, who had proposed that the remaining unspent Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, be repurposed into a supplemental budget so it could be used immediately.
If the supplemental budget is not approved by Congress before the year ends, the fund will revert to the national treasury.
“We are working on a very tight timetable as the current General Appropriations Act is going to expire by the end of the year and as there are only 5 weeks left in our legislative calendar,” Drilon said. “The certification by the President will ensure the immediate passage of this bill.”
The P14.6 billion will be used to rehabilitate and repair infrastructure damaged by the super typhoon that ravaged the Visayas, the 7.2-magnitude Bohol earthquake, typhoons Santi and Labuyo that hit Luzon, and the Zamboanga City siege.
It will also go to families that lost their homes and livelihood due to the calamities, in particular, Yolanda.
Before the Supreme Court declared the lawmakers’ PDAF as unconstitutional, it issued in September a temporary restraining order on releases for the rest of the year.
As early as October, when the Bohol earthquake struck, some lawmakers from both chambers had proposed to realign the held-off pork barrel to aid calamity victims. The Palace, however, preferred to wait for the court decision on the fate of the funds before planning around it.
Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad met Friday, November 22, to discuss the proposed supplemental budget.
According to Drilon, they agreed to the “absolute vitality” of the supplemental budget to authorize the executive to spend an additional P14.6 billion for fiscal year 2013 for massive relief and rehabilitation for the victims of calamities that battered the country during the latter half of the year.
Congress can start working on the proposed measure since the Bureau of Treasury already confirmed that funds are available and can be tapped, said Drilon.
The Senate President stressed: “Everything is in order now for the immediate passage of this supplemental budget. Hopefully, it can be passed as early as possible, since the victims of these calamities urgently need the augmented support of the government for rehabilitation.” – Pia Ranada/Rappler.com