Senate approves P3.35T national budget for 2017

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, November 28, approved on 3rd and final reading the proposed P3.35 trillion national budget for 2017 – the quickest it had done so in recent years. 

The proposed budget – which lawmakers said was crafted to deliver better social services – got 20 affirmative votes, no negative vote, and no abstention.

The bicameral conference, when senators and congressmen will reconcile the differences in their approved versions of the budget – will start at 10 am on Tuesday, November 29, at the Senate. 

The P3.35-trillion budget approved by both the Senate and the House is 11.6% higher than the 2016 budget. It represents 21% of the projected gross domestic product next year.

Agriculture, education, as well as peace and order are among the budget priorities of the Duterte administration. The Office of the President, and the education and public works departments are the top budget gainers. (READ: What's in the proposed 2017 national budget?)

Lawmakers barely touched the version of the proposed 2017 budget submitted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in August.

The senators to sit in the bicameral committee are:

The House, meanwhile, will be represented by the following congressmen:

Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the committee on finance, said in a statement that the Senate’s version of the budget “sets bold plans to meet not just today's needs, but one that looks beyond 2017, one that contributes to delivering long-term solutions to the country's long-term problems.” 

Priorities

Legarda said P1.42 trillion – around 40%  of the budget – has been allocated for social services. 

The Department of Education, including its attached agencies, will receive P546.62 billion – the biggest allocation for a department. The budget will be used “to finance the construction of classrooms, hiring of teachers and procurement of instructional materials,” the finance committee chief said. 

The Senate also approved an additional P50 million in the capital outlay of all state universities and colleges. This puts at P63.62 billion the total allocations for SUCs.

The Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Health have the 2nd and 3rd biggest allocation in the 2017 budget. 

The DPWH gets P443.76 billion, “given its indispensable role in poverty reduction, raising productivity, and in spreading the benefits of economic growth.” 

Meanwhile, the DOH gets P155.15 billion, including a P3-billion increase in the Philhealth budget “to ensure that all Filipinos will be covered by the universal healthcare program.” Legard said at least P155 billion has also been allocated for “the hiring of doctors, midwives and nurses to service the needs of our poorest communities in the country; building more hospitals; and procuring medicines.”

The other agencies with the biggest allocations are the Department of the Interior and Local Government, with P147.58 billion; the Department of  National Defense , P135.04 billion; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P128.31 billion.

Legarda said P78.2 billion has been allocated to the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program, which targets 4.4 million eligible beneficiaries in 2017. 

Social pension for indigent senior citizens has been provided for in next year’s budget.  

Security, peace and order

The Philippine National Police will get P111.26 billion to allow it to hire more personnel and procure firearms and equipment in the war on drugs and criminality.

The construction of rehabilitation centers for drug dependents will also get “ample budgetary support,” the Senate press release said. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has been allocated P130.742 billion for its modernization program. P25 billion of this will go to improving the country’s capabilities to counter terrorism.

The Senate has also proposed P388 million for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and P163 million for the Bureau of Corrections, to increase the daily subsistence allowance of inmates. 

Spend, with urgency 

The Senate version of the proposed 2017 national budget sets a one-year timeframe for the utilization of allocations – to discourage underspending, which marked the previous administration’s budget record. 

“Our budget is our investment for the future. It is supposed to construct new mass transport systems, new airports, road systems, and schools. They are supposed to fund services for the sick and poor; provide electricity to our people; and build irrigation for our farmers,” said Legarda.

“Underspending simply means missed opportunities. We wish to encourage that we all work together and provide the people what is due them,” the chairperson of the Senate finance committee said.

The one-year timeframe in the budget, she said, should “instill a sense of urgency among government agencies in utilizing their budget to the last peso.” – Rappler.com