MANILA, Philippines – Despite controversies, Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda vowed that all government agencies would receive their appropriate allocations for 2018.
"I assure you that the agencies will have their budgets. I just have to read their budgets again, what are their activities, what are their programs. Of course, may suweldo dapat ang mga tao rin (the employees also have to get their salaries)," Legarda said in an interview with dzBB on Sunday, September 17.
"I assure you that there will be no agency with no budget," she said.
The House of Representatives earlier gave a measly P1,000 budget to the Commission on Human Rights, which has been critical of the Duterte administration's drug war. (READ: After getting P1,000 from House, CHR hopes for 'rational minds' at Senate)
The House also gave P1,000 each for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
The Senate finance committee, for its part, approved the full budget of the 3 agencies – P678 million for the CHR, P365 million for the ERC, and P1.2 billion for the NCIP.
Legarda said no government office could properly function with a meager allocation of P1,000. Some senators earlier said the amount is tantamount to abolishing the agencies.
"Hindi naman po puwedeng tumakbo ang pamahalaan na may P1,000 budget. Pero pag-uusapan po namin kung paano magkikita eye-to-eye, so to speak, ang Kamara at ang Senado," she said.
(A government agency cannot run with just a P1,000 budget. But we will discuss how we can meet eye-to-eye, so to speak, the House of Representatives and the Senate.)
"Who can operate with P1,000? I think that was supposed to be a political statement. The Lower House has a reason for doing so which I respect," she said.
Once the House and the Senate approve their own versions of the 2018 budget, they would then convene a bicameral conference committee to reconcile differences between the two.
Legarda said there is no assurance that these 3 agencies would get their original proposed budgets in the bicam.
"I'm not sure if it's exactly the proposed budget. Alam naman po ninyo ang inyong legislation, mula sa proposed budget, maaaring tinataas, maaaring binababaan. Maaaring internally ay nag-iiba 'yung mga activities and programs (As you know, in the process of crafting the legislation, the proposed budget could either be increased or reduced. Internally, the activities and programs lined up could change)," she said.
"I'm not assuring you that it will be exactly to the last centavo, but I am assuring you that they will have a budget," she added.
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com