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House must clear up many budget issues

Discussions are now underway in the House of Representatives Committee on Ap­propriations on the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 National Budget, focused on the individual allotments of the various departments of the national government.

Many legislators cannot understand why the funds of certain departments have been reduced in the proposed budget sent to Congress by the Department of Budget and Management. The Department of Health (DoH) budget for 2019 is P35 billion less than its budget for 2018. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) budget is P5 billion lower.

The allocation for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is P95 billion less, when it is supposed to be leading the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program that will build new roads and bridges, seaports and airports, school buildings and other government structures. The funding for the Department of Education (DoE) is lower by P77 billion.

Could it be, as some quarters suspect, among them Sen. Panfilo Lacson, funds are being allocated elsewhere to fund special projects of senators and congressmen, hidden in various items of the national budget? Before 2013, each senator used to have P200 million and each congressman P70 million as “pork barrel” under the Priority Development Assistance Fund. After the Supreme Court ruled the PDAF unconstitutional, these funds, some believe, have somehow been incorporated in various lump-sum appropriations.

During the budget hearings for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza asked the department what it has done to clean up Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay and to make Metro Manila’s two water concessionaires set up waste-water treatment facilities. The government was quick to close down Boracay as it had become a “cesspool,” to use the description made by President Duterte, but Manila Bay continues to collect all the sewage from every household around the bay because the supposed treatment facilities are to be completed only around 2037.

The multi-billion-peso cuts in the budgets of many important departments will be difficult to explain to the people, when TRAIN 1 reportedly brought in surplus collections, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said.

In drawing up the annual budget for the country, Congress must ensure that all districts get the attention and funding they need and deserve. Last year, it has been charged, 24 districts, mostly represented by opposition solons, were left behind in funding.

New Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has assured that all districts will get the funding they deserve. Equally important, the departments of the national government should be assured of proper funding, with special mention of the Department of Education which, under the Constitution, should be assigned “the highest budgetary priority.”

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