House panel to start hearings on proposed 2018 budget Tuesday

MANILA-- The House Committee on Appropriations will begin on Tuesday its public hearings on the proposed PHP3.767 trillion national budget for 2018.

Committee Chair and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles of Davao City said budget deliberations are expected to last until August 24.

"The appropriations committee and the House of Representatives will definitely exercise its sworn duty to determine the absorptive capacity of our government agencies. We must make sure that every penny of our people's taxes is spent well and truly benefits our people," Nograles said.

On Tuesday, members of the Development Budget Coordination Committee -- composed of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. -- are set to defend the proposed national budget before the House panel.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has earlier said that he expects the lower chamber to pass the proposed 2018 budget for third and final reading in October.

President Rodrigo Duterte formally handed over to Congress the proposed PHP3.767 trillion national budget for 2018 after delivering his second State of the Nation Address on July 24.

The proposed budget for next year is 12.4 percent higher than the PHP3.35 trillion budget for 2017 and represents 21.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

In his budget message, President Duterte said the country needs an "activist budget" to fulfill the longing of the people. He also said his budget addresses the people's aspiration for "buhay na matatag, maginhawa at panatag."

The biggest chunk of the 2018 budget will be apportioned to education and infrastructure development.

Nograles noted that education will continue to receive the biggest allocation at PHP691 billion, or PHP41.7 billion more than the budget in the previous year.

The PHP691-billion allocation will be used to construct 47,000 classrooms, repair and rehabilitate 18,000 classrooms, procure 84,781 school seats, and create 81,100 teaching positions.

Nograles pointed out that there will also be bigger allocations next year for the JobStart Philippines Program which provides school-to-work transition assistance skills to 3,200 youth beneficiaries, as well as a PHP7.5 billion allocation for the college scholarship scheme that will benefit 36,977 students.

Meanwhile, the massive infrastructure program of the Duterte administration, or the Build, Build, Build, will receive a PHP1.097-trillion allocation.

The budget for Mindanao Logistics Infrastructure Network will be increased from PHP21.4 billion in 2017 to PHP23.6 billion in 2018, or a 10.3 percent increase.

Another big-ticket infrastructure project that will receive funding is the Mindanao Railway Project Phase I with a PHP6.6-billion budget.

Once completed, it is expected to accommodate around 120,000 passengers a day in the opening year and will cut down travel time from Davao City to Surigao and Cagayan de Oro from 8 to 2 hours.

The administration's anti-drug campaign will also be strengthened with a higher allocation for law enforcement budget at PHP131.5 billion for 2018, 17.6 percent higher than the 2017 allocation of P111.8 billion.

Some of the law enforcement budget will be spent on hiring new police officers to increase police visibility and for bankrolling the administration's flagship program against illegal drugs dubbed as Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded.

Nograles said the huge increase in the 2018 budget can be financed through "fiscal expansions" that include reforms on existing tax laws such as the proposed Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN).

Nograles said the comprehensive tax reform package could shore up government revenues with the removal of several Value Added Tax (VAT) exemptions on certain products and services, thus raising PHP81 billion.

An additional PHP47 billion can also be earned from the PHP10-per liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and another PHP87.8 billion from the excise taxes for petroleum products and automobiles, the lawmaker noted.

Source: Philippine News Agency