MANILA, Philippines – After sailing through the House of Representatives almost untouched, the country’s proposed budget of P1.645 trillion for 2011 faces possibly major changes when it reaches the next stage: the Senate.
A number of senators want to slash some allocations in the budget, particularly the P21-billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the Aquino government.
The CCT, also known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), aims to provide cash to 2.3 million poor families on the condition that they send their children to school and housewives undergo checkup at health centers.
‘Save the program’
Sen. Edgardo Angara wants to decrease the CCT allocation to P15 billion to “save the program,” questioning the DSWD’s capacity to properly use P21 billion in funds.
“Given the size and scope of the program which is 2.3 million families, at saka kakaunti ang manpower ng DSWD, kailangang ire-examine talaga natin ‘yan,” he told reporters. “Kung hindi, baka maging wasteful spending, mawalan ng credibility, at baka hindi natin ma-sustain ‘yon.”
Angara, a former president of the University of the Philippines, wants P6 billion from the CCT realigned to increase the budget for research and development in selected state universities and colleges.
Sen. Francis Escudero, an administration ally, also wants to cut the allocation for the CCT to P6 billion.
“I’m concerned about the DSWD’s absorptive capacity and possibility of corruption and favoritism,” he said in a text message to reporters.
Escudero wants P5 billion from the CCT realigned to the Department of Education’s (DepEd) school building program, P4 billion for all of the Health Department’s hospitals nationwide, P1 billion for the judiciary, and P5 billion for the agriculture department and the National Food Authority.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said reducing the allocation for CCT is possible, and underscored the need to evaluate the program carefully.
“We have to look at it objectively,” he said. “How can we check the recipients, the amount that each one receives, and the distribution of the beneficiaries? How much of the beneficiaries come from Mindanao, from the Visayas … to see to it that the distribution is equitable?”
“But whether we will actually reduce it, I do not know,” Enrile added.
Too much giveaways
Aside from the CCT, Angara also wants to realign other items in the 2011 budget, which he described as focusing too much on lump sums and giveaways.
For instance, he said he will propose that part of DepEd’s budget for school-feeding be allocated instead for hiring 10,000 new teachers, and realign a portion of the combined military and police budget for infrastructure.
He said shelling out money for infrastructure and research and development can sustain the economy more that giving dole-outs.
“In the end, hind mo matutulungan ang mahihirap kung hindi tama ang spending mo,” Angara said. “They’ll be condemned to perpetual poverty.”
Give budget a chance
For Sen. Franklin Drilon, however, Congress must give the Aquino administration a chance to have its budget intact, at least during its first year in office.
He also thinks concerns raised against the CCT are a little exaggerated.
“We must remember that the P21 billion is just the authority to spend. It doesn’t mean that it will be immediately available, all available in January 2011,” said Drilon, President Aquino’s party mate.
He added that the funds will be released on a staggered basis, and that Congress can always stop the program if it’s not being implemented properly.
Drilon, chair of the Senate finance committee, vowed to pass before yearend the 2011 General Appropriations Bill, which is expected to be transmitted to the Senate from the House on Wednesday.
He aims to deliver a sponsorship speech on the budget on November 23, and then subject it to debates at the Senate plenary from November 24 to December 1. Individual proposed amendments may also be submitted and included to committee amendments during this time.
Under the finance committee’s proposed calendar for the 2011 General Appropriations Act, the bill will be approved on second and third reading on December 1. The bicameral committee conference will then be convened on December 6, and its committee report approved on December 13.
On December 14, the enrolled version of the bill will be prepared and printed.
“Let us support the budget,” Drilon said. “This is the first year of the Aquino administration. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they indeed have the capacity to implement the programs they have proposed in the budget, and let’s pass judgment on all of these when they come back to us on the budget for 2012.”
Prone to corruption?
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III also believes the budget for the CCT must be slashed–if he had he had his way, by as much as P8 billion.
He believes the amount should be re-channeled to agriculture, particularly to increase rice production subsidies to 25 percent.
“Mas matutulungan natin sila sa gano’n imbes na cash ang ibigay sa mahihirap,” he said.
He believes the program is prone to corruption. “Not only in the distribution but also in the end, yung tatanggap. … Ibibili ba niya ng pagkain o itataya sa jueteng?” Sotto said. –Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News