President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday signed into law Republic Act No. 10924, or the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, the first budget under the Duterte administration.
Anchored in the 10-Point Socio-Economic Agenda of the President, the PHP3.35 trillion People's Budget supports fundamental services needed by Filipinos and includes provisions that reach out to the marginalized sectors and underdeveloped provinces in the country.
In his speech after the signing, President Duterte commended Congress and its leaders led by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Koko Pimentel for rigorously scrutinizing the budget and ensuring its prompt approval.
He also acknowledged the dedication of the men and women of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) headed by Secretary Benjamin Diokno for putting the budget together, for its timely submission to Congress.
"The 2017 GAA is the embodiment of the Filipinos' clamor for real change and the call for an honest and compassionate government. As the first budget of my administration, we ensure that it will be pro-people, pro-investment, pro-growth, and pro-development," Duterte said.
Some of the highlights of the budget include sizable allocation increases for infrastructure development, free education for state universities and colleges, universal healthcare, rice allowance for the poor, free irrigation for farmers, subsistence allowance for prisoners, and pension for war veterans and centenarians.
The Department of Education received the highest allocation among all Executive departments with PHP544.1 billion pesos or an increase of 32.1 percent from 2016.
These funds will be used to improve the quality of education to the provision and maintenance of basic learning facilities, creation of teaching and non-teaching positions, as well as the provisions of learning resources to more than 20 million Filipino students.
The allocation for state universities and colleges (SUCs) is also increased to PHP58.72 billion while the Commission on Higher Education was allocated PHP18.7 billion to provide deserving students greater access to tertiary education.
The 2017 budget also highlighted the importance of poverty alleviation as a significant factor in attaining real change.
As such, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) got PHP128.3 billion in 2017, an increase of 15.8 percent from the 2016 budget.
This amount includes PHP78.2 billion for the Conditional Cash Transfer program.
"CCT beneficiaries will also receive a monthly rice allowance to ensure that there is food on the table for every Filipino family. Both the young and the old will also be taken care of, of the supplemental feeding program for daycare children and the increased coverage of the social pension for the indigent senior citizens," Duterte said.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) was allocated with PHP148 billion pesos which would be used to support the country's serious efforts against illegal drugs, construct new jail facilities and augment the allowances of prisoners among others.
The national and household electrification program in off-grid areas will also be prioritized with a PHP1.1 billion budget to empower citizens in the provinces to be efficient and productive stakeholders in revitalizing our communities and industries.
The Department of Health was also given a sizable allocation of PHP96.3 billion to provide the marginalized sector with new and modernized health facilities and expanded health services.
The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) is also provided with PHP53.22 billion to fund the universal healthcare program that will address the Filipino people's need for quality health service.
"To promote universal healthcare, we will include PHP1.5 billion the doctors for the various program; and PHP2.6 billion pesos for the construction of treatment and rehabilitation centers in rural areas. Existing health facilities will be improved through the healthcare facilities enhancement program, while indigent patients will also receive free services from government hospitals," Duterte said.
As a pro-growth and pro-investment budget, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was allocated PHP454.7 billion and the Department of Transportation (DoTr) with PHP53.3 billion, increasing their budgets by 18.3 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
With the allocations, both sectors are enabled to help push the economic structure development in order to increase productivity, generate jobs, and attract more investments into our country.
Through the People's Budget, farmers will no longer have to pay irrigation fees as these fees will be shouldered by the National Irrigation Authority (NIA), which was granted PHP38.4 billion for 2017.
"Farmers no longer have to pay irrigation fees. That's one of my election promises: that I will do away with this thing," Duterte said.
"I've been wondering all these years why they have to pay for the water. What if they cannot pay? This is absurd. I don't know who invented this," Duterte said.
PHP45.2 billion was allocated for the Department of Agriculture (DA) while the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) was provided with PHP9.8 billion.
The two departments will intensify their support to Agrarian Reform Communities (ARC) and non-ARC and redistribute agricultural lands to farmers.
The government will also grant crop insurance to 1.3 million subsistence farmers and fisher folks to minimize damages from typhoons and other natural calamities.
Programs for climate change adaptation, improvement of harvest productivity, research and development, market development, and construction of farm-to-market roads will be funded to improve the lives of Filipino farmers.
To promote peace and order, the Department of National Defense was given PHP137.2 billion pesos for territorial defense, security and stability services.
The President said that the government will pursue the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Modernization Program for the maintenance of major equipment, aircraft vessels and increase in ammunition capacity as well as the veterans' hospitalization benefits.
"Our men and women in uniform deserve development because they dedicate sweat and blood to protect our beloved Philippines," he said.
In conclusion, the President said that the budget is useless if the Filipino is not at its center.
"This budget is a credible budget where every peso will be spent for the governments, for the gains of the Filipino people. Let us work together, utilize government budget for the empowerment of our citizens and for the realization of our focus and aspirations for our country," Duterte said.
Source: Philippines News Agency