DESPERATE PALACE GETS CLINTON TO ENDORSE DOLEOUTS
President Aquino and his allies in the Senate may be in for a big disappointment as opposition from senators swelled yesterday on the huge P21 billion funding of the doleout conditional cash transfer (CCT) program despite a desperate Palace bid of having visiting former US President Bill Clinton endorse the program.
While the P1.645-trillion 2011 budget hurdled the House of Representatives without cuts, the appropriations bill still needs Senate approval and more senators expressed intention to vote down the CCT program in the budget yesterday.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said he intends to slug it out with Palace allies in the Senate once the budget bill is presented for debates on the floor.
The 2011 budget is expected to be taken up on the floor in today’s Senate session and will be referred to the Senate finance committee, said Sen. Franklin Drilon, committee chairman.
“I will oppose it,” Sotto said, announcing his impending move,
effectively joining forces with Sen. Edgardo Angara in strongly objecting to the adoption and funding of P21 billion by the national government next year of the conditional cash transfer (CCT), granting an average of P1,500 subsidy to an estimated 2.3 million poor families monthly.
Sotto is out to challenge Palace defenders in the upper chamber on the feasibility and effectiveness of the program, citing the case of the New York City government which reportedly is now planning to discontinue a similar program after realizing it to be a “failure” in achieving its objectives.
Malacañang namedropped Clinton for the CCT claiming that the former US leader who is in the country for a speaking engagement, considered the CCT program a “good idea” as a short-term measure toward alleviating poverty in the country to go with the investment in education and basic healthcare services as a long-term response.
With Clinton’s support, the Palace expressed confidence that the P21-billion funding for CCT will make it through Senate deliberations.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang added that lawmakers “who are reportedly expected to give the P21-billion CCT fund a rough sailing would adopt the position taken by the former US leader whose philanthropy focuses on the reduction of poverty around the world.”
House members protesting the railroading of the budget’s approval by their colleagues allied with the Palace are also growing in number.
Congressmen led by the minority bloc pointed out the House merely acted as a “Xerox copier” of the original Malacañang proposal.
In approving the budget the House of Representatives had only reproduced what has been given to them by the Department of Budget and Management, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said.
“The House merely reproduced the National Expenditure Program,” House minority leader Edcel Lagman echoed.
San Juan City Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito said despite the issues raised during the lengthy plenary debates the budget remained the same particularly those for the State Universities and Colleges.
Ejercito also opposed the P21-billion cash transfer fund for the Department of Social and Welfare Development (DSWD).
“If the 21 billion-peso budget for CCT program is allocated for the dole-outs and cash gifts for impoverished people, it should have been under the Office of the President and not with the DSWD. The huge amount might taint the social welfare department and could be an avenue to corruption,” he stated.
According to Sotto, the New York government tried a similar program to CCT for three years and was unsuccessful. “It has bad effects. There are no positive effects. So why give it P21 billion?”, he asked.
He pointed to an article that appeared in the New York Times last March 30 which said that the “unusual and much-heralded program that gave poor families cash to encourage good behavior and self-sufficiency has so far had only modest effects on their lives and economic situation.”
It made reference to the New York government’s “three-year-old pilot project, the first of its kind in the country that gave parents payments for things like going to the dentist ($100) or holding down a full-time job ($150 per month). Children were rewarded for attending school regularly ($25 to $50 per month) or passing a high school Regents exam ($600).”
“They said that if you never fail, you’ve never tried new, innovative things. But they tried it already. So now that it’s a failure and we’re still giving it a try?” Sotto asked.
Sotto admitted being against the program itself “because there are other good programs that the money can be utilized for.”
“A perfect example is the agriculture sector. Seventy to 75 percent of Filipinos rely on agriculture and what do we do? Nothing. The government buys two to three percent of the output of the Filipino farmers. What we should do, at the very least, let the government buy 20 percent if not all of the entire output of Filipino farmers, you will see the economic boom, the government will benefit from it, the poor will benefit from it directly. How much would it cost? Only P8 billion,” he said.
“If we push through with it, that you are able to distribute it well, you give it in cash to the intended beneficiary. How can the government be assured that they will use the money in bringing food on the table? The government may be able to deliver to them the money,” he added.
Sen. Joker Arroyo described the 2011 General Appropriations Act (GAA) a “carbon copy” of the 2010 national expenditure program of former president, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.
“This will be the first test of how far the Senate will go to support the President. This is an administration Senate. If they will go against the wishes of the President, because if marching orders will be issued, we don’t know,” the senator said.
Drilon said he is already anticipating protracted debates on the CCT that will be implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
“I am sure if in the course of the year the DSWD could not absorb or disburse the tranches, then it is not automatic that the next tranche would be the same,” he said.
“We will see how the House modified the budget, then we will prepare a committee report to be reported out in plenary,” Drilon said.
He said marathon plenary sessions will be held until next week to facilitate the budget bill’s passage and incorporate proposed amendments by the senators.
The Senate will conduct morning session from Nov. 24 to Dec. 1 to hear House Bill 3101, he said, as he assured the passage of House Bill 3101 before lawmakers go on a holiday break on Dec. 18.
Session will run until Dec. 18, and lawmakers will go on a month-long holiday break. Session will resume anew on Jan. 17 next year.
“We proposed to have the budget approved simultaneously on second and third reading by Dec. 1,” said Drilon, adding that a bicameral conference committee will be convened on Dec. 6 to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget measure.
The House of Representatives had approved its version of the budget on third reading last Nov. 8.
At the House, Ejercito noted the many constitutional violations of the controversial measure. Among those he mentioned is the limitation on the formalities of the passage of a bill.
“The Constitution is clear when it states that the third reading is limited only to the casting of the members’ votes without further debate much more insertion of amendments. When they added some amendments after it passed second reading, they infringed the Charter which they are supposed to defend,” Ejercito explained.
The young solon added that the principle of separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative departments has also been taken for granted since the Lower House failed to exercise its power of appropriations.
“As the 2011 General Appropriations Act is almost a carbon copy of the Malacañang’s proposal and the DBM is in-charge with the changes effected in budgetary allocations, the power of purse to be exercised only by the House of Representatives was ignored,” he pointed out.
Rep. Toby Tiangco said the believes in the proverb “give a man fish and you feed him for a day but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
“I don’t believe in dole outs. Financial assistance is okay but a permanent job to beneficiaries would be better”, he added.
Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad said prospects for the timely enactment of the proposed P1.645-trillion Reform Budget for 2011 are clearer after the House of Representatives has passed it on third reading yesterday.
He also lauded the House led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, in voting 175 vs. 21 in favor of the proposed spending measure last night, for keeping the increased investments in social services, as well as special provisions promoting transparency and accountability intact.
“We’re happy that the House passed the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) on its first day after returning from the break. We’re also happy that the House kept the GAB to be substantially in line with the social investment and reform thrust of the Aquino Administration,” he said.
“It is important to us that the national budget is passed on time, to enable the government to implement programs and projects in a timely manner. Especially in infrastructure projects, a lot of wastage happens if project implementation is done in bad time and bad weather,” he added. –Gerry Baldo, Angie M. Rosales and Aytch S. de la Cruz, Daily Tribune