By ELLSON QUISMORIO
The P3.767-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2018 was ratified by lawmakers on the penultimate session day of the year, paving the way for its signing by President Duterte before Christmas.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Davao City 1st Rep. Karlo Nograles said that the GAB, which has a House and a Senate version, was approved by the Bicameral Conference Committee at past 2 p.m. yesterday
This was achieved after two weeks of painstaking deliberations by congressmen and senators who sought to harmonize the differing provisions of their respective versions of the proposed national budget for next year.
Nograles estimates that the proposed national budget will be signed into law on or before Dec.19.
“President Rodrigo Duterte can proudly affix his signature to this measure on Dec. 19 following its ratification,” he reckoned, referring to their self-imposed deadline for the signing of the 2018 national budget.
The measure was quickly ratified during the session yesterday, which began at 4 p.m. After Wednesday’s session, both congressmen and senators will start their month-long holiday break.
Among the bells and whistles of the measure are the billions worth of benefits lined up for the education sector.
These are the provision of an additional P1,000 cash allowance for public school teachers from the current P2,500 to P3,500 (budget allocation: P770 million); the increase of at least P10 million each for all State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) across-the-board for capital outlays to be used in the repair, rehabilitation, constructions of academic buildings and the purchase of equipment, among others (P3.7 billion); and the rollout of the free college education program under Republic Act (RA) 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (P40 billion) to cover the free tuition and miscellaneous fees for college students in all State Colleges and Universities nationwide.
It can be recalled that Nograles’s Appropriations panel moved heaven and earth during the budget deliberations at the House of Representatives just to realign funds for the celebrated law, which lacked an allocation in the Palace-prepared 2018 National Expenditure Program.
The 2018 budget will also ensure the implementation of free Wifi for all SUCs amounting to P327 million.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers exercised foresight in setting aside an additional P62 billion for the increase of military and uniformed personnel’s (MUP) base pay beginning January 1, 2018. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 18, which bears this effect, was approved on 3rd and final reading on Monday, Dec. 11.