MANILA, -- The House of Representatives on Tuesday ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed PHP3.35 trillion national budget for 2017, the first under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The report, which was voted through viva voce, will then be transmitted to the Palace for President Duterte's approval.
House appropriations committee chair Karlo Nograles said the House contingent in the bicam accepted the Senate's position to allocate some PHP8.3 billion, originally allotted for development projects in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
The agreement between the two chambers was meant to remove the impasse on the budget and avoid further delays on its approval, thus paving way for the Duterte administration's agenda for change, he noted.
"We are one with the position of President Duterte that we really need to develop Mindanao if we want to defeat the insurgency problem in the region, which is why we programmed infrastructure projects in Mindanao, including the ARMM. But some members of the Senate opined that this could be in violation of the ARMM Organic Act," said Nograles.
"This created some sort of deadlock as the House stood its ground since we saw nothing in the Organic Act of the ARMM that prohibits the national government from implementing infrastructure projects in ARMM especially if identified in the medium term development plan. In the end, we decided to give in just so that a budget is passed because we do not want a re-enacted budget," he added.
The PHP8.3 billion additional CHED fund was allocated reportedly to finance free tuition for students in all State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and additional funds for incentives and grants.
Apart from the PHP8.3 billion "free college education fund", Nograles said other additional "big ticket" projects approved in the bicam are as follows: PHP770 million for the additional PHP1,000 cash allowance for teachers; PHP1.2 billion for additional scholarship funds in SUCs; PHP100 million for the centenarian fund; PHP2 billion for irrigation fees subsidy; and PHP3 billion for the additional increase of PhilHealth subsidy, among others.
The PHP3.35-trillion budget is the largest proposed budget to date, 11.6 percent higher than the 2016 budget.
Furthermore, the proposed budget represents 20.4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, higher than this year's 20.1 percent GDP share.
Of the PHP3.35 trillion, 40 percent will be allotted for social services, 27.6 percent for economic services, and 22 percent for general public services and defense.
Source: Philippines News Agency