Senate starts plenary deliberations on proposed 2019 budget

MANILAWith less than two weeks to go before Congress adjourns for its December break, the Senate on Tuesday formally started plenary deliberations on the proposed PHP3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 to approve it in time for President Rodrigo Duterte's signing before the end of the year.

The Senate started the proceedings after Senator Loren Legarda, the chair of the Committee on Finance, presented Committee Report No. 538, which she said, embodies the Senate amendments to the 2019 General Appropriations Bill approved by the House of Representatives.

In her sponsorship speech, Legarda said the Senate's Constitutionally-mandated task to "propose or concur with amendments" to the national budget for fiscal year 2019 is almost complete and ready for deliberations.

While pressed for time, we shall nevertheless perform our duty to pass a budget that is geared towards our collective desire to provide our people with programs and services that would usher in personal growth, community development and national progress, Legarda said.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 is PHP10 billion lower than the 2018 national budget since it limits new appropriations to include only those programs that are ready for implementation and completion within the budget year.

The highest allocation by sector, based on the National Expenditure Program (NEP), is still for social services at 36.7 percent of the budget, followed by economic services at 28.4 percent, general public service at 18.9 percent, debt burden at 11 percent, and defense at 5 percent.

Legarda said investing in the human capital remains the primary goal of the government with education getting a much-needed support.

She cited the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) at PHP43.3 billion, the Department of Education's Basic Educational Facilities (BEF) Program at PHP30.7 billion and the Government Assistance to Students in Private Schools and Non-DepEd Public Schools (GASTPE) at PHP32.1 billion.

State colleges and universities (SUCs) will also be given support in terms of capital outlays for SUCs with zero allocation under the GAB for the upgrade and improvement of their facilities.

Meanwhile, PHP67.353 billion is allocated for the National Health Insurance Program and PHP2 billion has been allocated for the Health Facilities Enhancement Fund, which will be distributed across the country for the purchase of hospital equipment of rural health units, barangay health stations, local government-run hospitals and other hospitals under the Department of Health.

Another big-ticket program under social services is the DSWD's Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program at PHP88.106 billion.

For economic services, infrastructure projects under the "Build, Build, Build" program amount to PHP909.7 billion, which includes funding for the 35-kilometer Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1 and the Mindanao Railway Project.

In agriculture, PHP2.7 billion is allocated for the free irrigation program under the National Irrigation Program (NIA); while PHP4.5 billion is provided for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to fund community fish landing centers, fiberglass boats and post-harvest fishing kits.

Legarda said among the amendments made by the Senate is the realignment of PHP20 billion within the unprogrammed fund to provide for standby appropriations for rice and coconut farmers.

Of this amount, PHP10 billion was allotted for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund intended to fund farm machineries and equipment, the Rice Seed Development, propagation and promotion, credit assistance and rice extension services to farmers who will be affected by the tariffication of the quantitative import of rice.

The other PHP10 billion is for the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Fund which shall be used for infrastructure program, planting, replanting and establishment of hybrid coconut nurseries, intercropping and shared facilities, research and development and credit facilitation.

For local economic development, PHP507.8 million is earmarked for the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that is intended to increase the productivity of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) by giving them access to efficient technologies, skills, knowledge, and systems.

For the Department of Tourism, PHP1.621 billion has been allocated for marketing and product development.

The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines were allotted PHP172.4 billion and PHP177.7 billion, respectively, for their funding needs.

These are just some of the highlights of the proposed 2019 national budget. I earnestly hope that this proposed legislation will merit the approval of this chamber, Legarda said.

After her sponsorship speech, Senate President Vicente Sotto III opened the period of interpolations for the proposed budgets of the DTI and its attached agencies; the Department of Science and Technology; and the budgetary support for government-owned or -controlled corporations.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV was tasked to defend the budgets of the said agencies.

Interpolations on the general principles of the national budget was scheduled on Wednesday at 9 a.m. as requested by Legarda.

Sotto said based on the agreement among members of the Senate, an agency's budget would be deemed submitted for approval upon ending the period of interpolations. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency