‘2022 budget ready for poll issues, Mandanas ruling’


ANTICIPATING what he called “troubles and birthing pains,” the main sponsor of the 2022 national budget bill in the Senate gave assurances the money measure has been designed to be ready for the challenges of transition posed by the elections and the Mandanas ruling posing a fiscal challenge to the national government while increasing the monies available to local government units (LGUs).

“In many ways, 2022, Mr. President, will be a transition year—not only because of a new administration, but also because of the beginning of the implementation of the Mandanas-Garcia ruling,” Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, Finance Committee chairman, said in sponsoring the annual money measure for plenary consideration.

Angara assured that “while we recognize any change will have its fair share of troubles and birthing pains, we have tried to take steps to make sure that the process is relatively smooth.”

After summing up the senators’ amendments to the 2022 budget bill inputed by the Angara committee, the Senate voted 22 in favor with no negative votes and no abstentions.

With 22 affirmative votes, no negative and no abstention, the Senate late Wednesday passed on third and final reading its version of the P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022, keeping to a strict timeline that hopes to complete bicameral meetings between the two chambers so Congress can transmit it to President Duterte for approval before Christmas.

Before voting, Angara summed up the highlights of his Committee Report 332 or the Senate version of the “General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2022.”

An example of senators’ bid to make the budget attuned to the challenge from Mandanas, Angara reported that under the outlay for the Department of Budget and Management-Office of the Secretary (DBM-OSEC), “a special provision was included mandating the DBM to review and update its National Government and Local Government Unit (NG-LGU) cost-sharing guidelines on continuing subsidies for the services that have already been devolved under the Local Government Code.”

Then, Angara added, “to ensure that [LGUs] will be able to meaningfully and effectively take on the devolved functions relating to infrastructure development, an LGU infrastructure-capacity building program shall be conducted by the DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways], upon the recommendation of Senator [Panfilo] Lacson.”

Angara said passage of the budget bill was timely, in light of the recent news on the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant of concern, Omicron. The Senate version increased substantially the budget for health as approved by the House of Representatives. The Department of Health (DOH) will receive a total budget of P226.7 billion, much higher than the 182.67 billion that was appropriated under the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) passed by the House of Representatives.

Angara pointed out that the DOH will continue to receive a significant portion of the national budget in order to best prepare “for the worst-case scenario.”

“While there may be changes in the details and the allocated budget, the very spirit of our national budget is still there, which is to help uplift our nation from this pandemic,” Angara said.

Fuel subsidy

MEANWHILE, Angara said that to cushion the sustained blow from high fuel prices, “significant funds up to P3 billion are appropriated for fuel vouchers and discounts to farmers and fisherfolk to be distributed by the DA [Department of Agriculture] and BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources] regional offices to qualified beneficiaries.”

Such financial support shall be provided to farmers and fisherfolk when the average Dubai Crude Oil Price based on MOPS for three months reaches or exceeds $80 per barrel.

The Senate also reverted P5.320 billion in loan proceeds from the Philippine Rural Development Project which had been realigned by the House to road development projects. Reverting the loan proceeds to the rural development fund was requested by Finance panel Vice-Chairman Cynthia Villar, and Senators Lacson and Ralph Recto.

“We also provided support for the parcelization of lands for individual titling up to P2.6 billion,” Angara added.

Funds totalling P2.536 billion were set aside for the Agro-Industry Modernization Credit and Financing program administration under the Agricultural Credit Policy Council, to be transferred to government banks, private banks, thrift banks, and universal banks, as well as non-bank financial institutions such as coops, farmers or [fishermen’s] organizations, agri-fishery based corporations and other viable NGO [nongovernment organizations], Angara continued. These are “all for the benefit of registered small farmers and [fishermen] and MSMEs [micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises].”

Lion’s share for health, education

ACCORDING to Angara, some of the increases in relation to the Health appropriations made in the GAB include items related to the pandemic response: Covid-19 Benefits and Compensation for Healthcare Workers; Covid-19 Human Resource for Health Emergency Hiring; Covid-19 Laboratory Network Commodities; the DOH’s Epidemiology and Surveillance program; preparations for national reference laboratories like the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; and, the hiring and training of 25,000 contact tracers.

Angara noted amendments to special provisions were introduced for the purchase and allocation of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, medicine and vaccines for Covid-19, such as Molnupiravir.

Aside from the DOH, the approved Senate version of the GAB assured that the Education sector would receive a lion’s share of the national budget. Angara said the Department of Education’s budget will see an increase of P6.7 billion under the proposed Senate bill. State universities and colleges, on the other hand, will receive a total of P26.56 billion while the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will get P1.46 billion, according to the Senate Committee on Finance Chairman.

“This will be particularly important as we consider the expansion of face-to-face classes to more schools across the country. Funding support will remain for our schools as they make a transition to safe, face-to-face operations,” Angara explained.

Following the approval of the Senate version of the national budget, Senate President Vicente Sotto III named the Senate contingent in the bicameral conference committee to be led by Angara.

The Senate members are: Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri; Cynthia A. Villar; Ronald Dela Rosa; Pia S. Cayetano; Sherwin T. Gatchalian; Christopher Lawrence T. Go; Richard J. Gordon; Risa Hontiveros; Imee R. Marcos; Joel J. Villanueva; Nancy S. Binay; and, Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares.

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