House minority pushes for bigger budgets for congressmen

Gemma B. Mendoza

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Opposition proposes to carve the sum out of the P22.4-B proposed lumpsum allocation for the Priority Social and Economic Projects Fund

MANILA, Philippines — To accommodate additional lawmakers in the 16th Congress, the House of Representatives needs an additional P700-million in its 2013 budget, opposition lawmakers in the chamber said.

And to fund this gap, the House minority is proposing to carve the sum out of the P22.4-billion proposed lumpsum allocation for the Priority Social and Economic Projects Fund (PSEF).

“The proposed budget for the House of Representatives is good for 250 members. After the 2013 elections, I think members could reach 290 if we include the new districts,” Minority Floor Danilo Suarez said.

Suarez said the proposal to increase the P5.8-billion allocation for the chamber to P6.5 billion was submitted to the small committee tasked to fine-tune provisions in the P2.006-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) earlier approved on second reading.

Senators get more

Suarez told Rappler that the amount was part of the House budget proposal to begin with. “It was proposed. But the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) gave the House a lower budget ceiling.”

“The DBM should have considered that the original amount was when we were at 250,” he added.

The Commission on Elections earlier said 233 district representative positions and 58 party-list representative positions will be voted for in the May 2013 elections. 

Suarez also said the additional budget will put the resources for congressmen near, if not at par with the budget at the disposal of each senator.

“Budgets of congressmen and senators are miles apart. I am not saying we should match both. But the playing field should be leveled to some extent in terms of support,” Suarez told Rappler.

“Our rooms are small compared to senators’ rooms. Senators have support staff. We don’t.”

In addition, he said, senators get a bigger share of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) at P200 million each per year compared to Congressmen who only get P70 million each.

The disparity is a concern, according to Suarez, because while senators are elected at large, congressmen have districts to take care of. He adds, “Mas mahirap sa amin kasi bills start from us.” (It is harder for us because bills start from us.)

PDEA, Drugs Board and Pagasa

Aside from the House allocation, the opposition bloc is also proposing to slash the PSEF further in order to increase the budgets for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB), the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

“(PDEA and DDB) are combatting a P300-billion criminal syndicate. Are we kidding here when we’re proposing a budget so low for these two agencies?” Suarez said.

Pagasa meanwhile needs an additional P750 million for its weather and flood forecasting and geophysical and astronomical services, Suarez said, as only P245 million was earlier proposed by the Budget department.

The opposition bloc will also push for a P700-million NTC budget, an allocation they said was enough to police telecommunication companies.

PSEF distribution

Special provisions that will govern the use of the PSEF in the National Expenditure Program for 2013, say that the money will be distributed to the following agencies:

  • Department of Health – 13.5 billion;
  • Department of Transportation and Communications – P3 billion;
  • Department of Public Works and Highways – P2 billion;
  • Programs/ Projects under the Bottom-Up Budgeting – P2 billion;
  • Department of Trade and Industry – P770 million;
  • Budgetary Support to Government Corporations (Philippine Coconut Authority) – P566 million; and
  • Peso Counterpart of Foreign-Assisted Projects in the Pipeline – P511 million.

House Committee on Appropriations Chair Joseph Emilio Abaya earlier said the panel expects agencies to submit lists of projects to be funded through the PSEF before the chamber gives the budget bill its final approval.

The House of Representatives eyes to pass the GAB on third reading by October 15. –

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Gemma B. Mendoza

Gemma Mendoza leads Rappler’s multi-pronged efforts to address disinformation in digital media, harnessing big data research, fact-checking, and community workshops. As one of Rappler's pioneers who launched its Facebook page Move.PH in 2011, Gemma initiated strategic projects that connect journalism and data with citizen action, particularly in relation to elections, disasters, and other social concerns.