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Budget delay looms over proposed item



THE Senate began its plenary sessions on the National Budget bill last Monday with proposals for increases in the funding for several programs of the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education and the Departments of Health, Social Services, and Information and Communication Technology. The increased funding for these programs will have the effect of raising the “compassionate index” of the bill, Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.

The budget of the Department of Education was increased by P6.2 billion to support the continued study of senior high school students now in private schools on government vouchers. The amount will also finance the completion of the facilities and equipment of so-called “Last-Mile Schools” set up in isolated and conflict-affected areas of the country.

The budget of the Commission on Higher Education is to be increased by P8.5 billion for the Student Financial Assistance Program, and another P8.5 billion for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Educa­tion Act.

The Senate would also appropriate P116 million for research at the University of the Philippines and other State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), and P167 million for cash grants to medical scholars in the SUCs.

The Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) is getting an additional P4 billion for digital classrooms, workforce, and workplaces.

A P9.4-billion fund is provided for aid to poor patients in hospitals; and P7 billion for the continued employment of doctors, nurses, and midwives in still unserved areas in the country.

The budget for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) would be increased by P3 billion for hot meals for children in the DSWD’s Supplementary Feeding Program for children in pre-school, kindergarten, and day care centers.

The Senate may see the need for more funds for other deserving programs of the government. It plans to end all discussion and debate on November 20 – four days from now – after which the Senate will approve its version of the National Budget bill.

The changes approved by the Senate will be taken up in a Bicameral Conference Committee with the House of Representatives. That is where the two chambers must agree to the changes being made by each body.

The House has already approved the National Budget bill – accepting en toto the P4.1-trillion budget proposal of Malacañang filed last August 29. But even now, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, there are reports that the House will submit to the Bicameral Conference Committee a special additional P100-billion budget item which Lacson suspects will contain “pork barrel” projects of the congressmen.

The Constitution prohibits any inclusion of such a new item, he said, but the congressmen might insist on it as a House amendment for consideration in the Conference Committee. It was precisely such a situ­ation that led to the three-month delay in the approval of the 2019 budget.

We must hope that this early, our senators and congressmen can come to an understanding and agreement on the budget. Otherwise, we will have a repeat of last year’s budget delay which set back the government’s entire program for 2019.