We aren’t being selective, says Alvarez on budget cuts

Bea Cupin
We aren’t being selective, says Alvarez on budget cuts
Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali questions why media only focuses its attention on the CHR budget reduction

MANILA, Philippines – Citing his instructions to hold the budget of the Office of the President, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez denied on Friday, September 15, allegations that they were being “selective” in scrutinizing and even drastically cutting down the budgets of government agencies.

The House – or at least its leadership and the majority bloc – were the subject of criticism after it slashed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR)’s 2018 budget from over P600 million to a mere P1,000 for 2018. During plenary debates on the budget, at least two more agencies were allocated only P1,000: the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

The ERC was the reason why Alvarez wanted the Office of the President’s budget put on hold.

Bakit hanggang ngayon ay wala pa ring resolution? So nakiusap sa akin si Sec. Medialdea na palusutin yung budget. Sabi ko okay, with one condition: kailangan yung resolution ilabas niyo yan in two weeks. Pag hindi, ay hindi din namin papayagan yan sa Bicam,” said Alvarez during a press conference.(I asked [The Office of the President], why is there no resolution until now? Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea asked that we pass the budget. I said okay but with one condition: you have to release the resolution in two weeks. If you don’t, we will not let it through the bicameral conference committee.)

Alvarez was referring to a case filed against ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar, who is currently serving a 4-month suspension for “insubordination.”

Kung doon meron isang ahensya ng hindi ginagawa yung trabaho, aba eh kailangan din namin i-hold yan. Gusto ko lang malinaw yan. Hindi po namin pinepersonal yung CHR, yung ERC, yung NCIP,” he said, adding that the House leadership also put the Public Works and Highways department budget on hold because of inefficiencies.

(If there is an agency that’s not doing its job, we have to put the budget on hold. I want that to be clear. We did not take the CHR, ERC and NCIP personally.) 

While the ERC and NCIP budget cuts were unopposed during plenary debates, the CHR budget cut triggered strong, even emotional responses from legislators on the floor. (READ: How the House voted for a P1,000 CHR budget)

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas explained that the NCIP budget was cut because – “ironically” – of a motion from Bayan Muna, a progressive organization. Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate had insisted that the commission was not doing its job in protecting minorities. 

Fariñas also cited mounting complaints against the ERC, including that of corruption, as a reason for the budget cut. “So kaya ganun po ang nangyari, ginawa po namin na we are sending the message as representative of the people, yung tao gusto niyan na makita na iyan eh patakbuhin ng mabuti yung opisina,” he said.  (That’s what happened. What we did here is send the message, as representatives of the people, that the people want to see that the offices are run right.) 

Alvarez had earlier dismissed criticism and even lashed out against critics over the CHR decision.

Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali also questioned why even in the media, only the CHR budget was the focus of attention.

Kung tinitingnan nyo yung P1K budget ng NCIP, mas malaki po ang budget ng NCIP kaysa sa CHR – wala naman kayong reaction doon. So kaya parang pati ang media ngayon selective. Sana maging patas tayo sa lahat, kung kami po ay binatikos ‘nyo, sana ipakita din ninyo ‘yung ibang aspeto na ginawa namin,” he said during the press conference.

(If you look at it, the NCIP was supposed to get a bigger budget than the CHR. But you didn’t react to that. So even you now are selective. I hope we all be there. If we are being criticized here, I hope you show other aspects of our job)

Although the House during plenary debates slashed the CHR and NCIP budgets, Senate finance sub-committee approved them without any major changes.

Differences in the budgets passed by the two chambers will be settled by a bicameral conference committee, where both houses are represented. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.