'Budget insertions' okayed-A A +A
Thursday, October 7, 2010
MANILA -- Members of the House of Representatives tasked the budget secretary on Wednesday to identify where the budget allocations per region will be poured into, following opposition from Visayan lawmakers on the measly amount allocated for their regions.
Visayas lawmakers, represented by Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia, questioned the inequitable budget allocations per region during the deliberation of the 2011 General Appropriations Act at the House of Representatives, Wednesday.
Garcia (Cebu, second district) lamented the 7.7 percent allocation for Western Visayas, Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas, while regions in Mindanao will get 10 percent.
Luzon was appropriated 16.3 percent while the National Capital Region got 3.6 percent.
Taking the floor to deliver a privilege speech, Garcia echoed the sentiment of Representative Roger Mercado (Southern Leyte) who complained last Tuesday of the small budget for Visayas and Mindanao.
As Garcia started his speech, his colleagues questioned the privilege given to the Cebuano lawmaker, because the budget approval was scheduled two weeks before the House goes on recess on November 8.
But before Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin moved to suspend the session, Garcia made a motion to suspend discussions on the budget bill.
Garcia, however, withdrew his motion to suspend the discussions after more than two hours of discussion with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
He said the Visayan lawmakers basically got what they wanted wherein the "old system of pork barrel" will be restored.
"Hopefully, the secretary will come out with the list on where part of the lump sum will go so that every congressman ay may makikita naman...Kung walang control mechanism, baka ma-leave masyado ang discretion sa mga secretaries," Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II told reporters after Wednesday's session.
Congressmen will now be given the power to propose and insert projects for their provinces in the list to be provided by the Department of Budget and Management official.
Two lawmakers, who wished to be unnamed, also affirmed this, saying "the basic issue of congressional insertions was inserted through the list."
Before the insertions were approved Wednesday, Representative Ben Evardone (Eastern Samar) told reporters that lawmakers from the Visayas deliberately kept the issue until they discussed it before Tuesday's session resumed.
"We want a more equitable distribution of the government resources because this is very lopsided," Evardone said.
The budget level by region indicates there is P506 billion (30.8 percent) allocated for national offices and P521 billion (31.7 percent) for central offices of various government agencies.
When asked where these amounts will be appropriated, Evardone said since the documents only indicate national and central offices, this means the department secretaries will decide on the allocations.
"We agreed to stop the deliberation on the budget. If they will deny our motion to suspend, we would question the quorum," he added.
Data from the Department of Budget and Management showed a lump sum budget of P1 trillion.
House committee on appropriations chair Emilio Abaya said out of the lump sum fund, another 26 percent will be allocated for Mindanao and 21 percent will be given to Visayas.
Abaya said the budget for regions should really not be equally distributed and that the budget is never enough for the needs of all districts.
The 58 congressmen from Mindanao have also scheduled a meeting Thursday to discuss the budget allocated to them.
Representative Rolando Andaya Jr. (Camarines Sur, first district), vice chairperson of the appropriations committee, also noted that not all of the P1.645-trillion budget is given to the regions, provinces and districts.
He cited the P21-billion conditional cash transfer program of the government, which will be allocated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
"They need to understand the priorities of the government. We cannot base the budget solely on geography," he said.
"The priority is social services, but it does not mean that the budget won't go down to the barangays. It will trickle down, it has to trickle down," Andaya added.
Meanwhile, Representative Eduardo Gullas (Cebu, first district) said the Visayas lawmakers were not able to raise the issue in the committee level because the data was only provided last September 20.
Speaker Belmonte then called Abad, who was at the Senate when Garcia raised questions on the budget, to explain to the Visayas lawmakers the data he provided.
Representative Tomas Osmeña (Cebu City, south district), who was not able to attend the luncheon meeting, said the government is "playing favorites" for Luzon.
In a phone interview with Sun.Star, Osmeña said while he does not know the figures cited by his colleagues, he will support them.
Osmeña is the one of the vice chairpersons of the appropriations committee.
Representative Rachel del Mar (Cebu City, north district) also supported the call of Garcia to suspend the deliberations on the 2011 budget.
"We support the move to question how the total budget was distributed. He is coming from the perspective that the Visayas was only allocated 7.7 percent," she said in a text message.
The House minority will likely raise the issue on Thursday because the agreement during the consultation with Belmonte and Abad were not explained to the other members of Congress.
"The leadership of the House can sleep on this tonight but tomorrow, I will be asking the same questions," Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)