MANDAUE City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing’s proposed P2.4 billion budget was slashed by the opposition during the budget ordinance’s first reading at the Cebu City Council’s regular session last Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 5.

Most of the items slashed were for social services.

Quisumbing proposed a P2.4 billion budget for 2019, lower than this year’s budget of P2.7 billion.

Based on the report of the committee on budget and finance, P10 million was slashed from the item on financial assistance, while another P10 million was slashed from the honorarium of job order (JOs) employees.

Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna, who presides over the session, said that all slashed items were important. He claims that politics is behind the move of the opposition, something that Association of Barangay Councils president Ernie Manatad threw back at Fortuna. Manatad said that granting additional financial assistance months away from the elections is clearly politicking.

Manatad was among those who signed the committee report as vice chairman of the committee on budget and finance, chaired by Councilor Nenita Layese, who failed to attend Wednesday’s session. Councilor Malcolm Sanchez also signed the report as a member of the committee.

For this year, the budget for the JOs is P320 million. For 2019, the executive proposed P330 million. On the item on financial assistance, this year’s budget is only P17.5 million but the proposed budget for 2019 was doubled to P35 million.

The proposed budget for donations was also doubled to P45 million from this year’s budget of P22.5 million.

“Those are crucial operations, because this is where the people feel that government exists. Since our population in the city is almost 380,000, we expect that next year, the number of beneficiaries will increase. That is why we increased (the appropriation for financial assistance), and (for the) donations, part of this will be used for the increase of the financial assistance for senior citizens,” Fortuna told members of the media.

Also last Wednesday, Councilors Nilo Seno and Raul Cabahug filed a proposed ordinance to increase the cash gift for senior citizens from the current P6,000 to P8,000.

Fortuna said the city is making the programs under the City Social Welfare and Services (CSWS) more expansive through the Hinabang sa Edukasyon, Livelihood ug Panglawas (Helps). More people are benefiting from the city’s burial, medicines and hospitalization, and educational assistance. Beneficiaries could avail themselves of up to P25,000 in hospitalization service.

CSWS Chief Jessie Perez said that in 2017, 500 people benefited from Helps. This year, over 1,000 took advantage of the P3,000 educational assistance every semester for junior, senior high school and college students.

If in the last few years people could only avail themselves of the financial assistance for medications, hospitalization and burial once a year, this year, Perez amended the rules. This time, beneficiaries can avail themselves of the assistance every three months.

Manatad asked why the administration increased the proposed appropriations for JOs’ honorarium, financial assistance and donations when the proposed appropriation for the other items were decreased this year.

“Doubling the budget for donation is unjustified considering elections are coming and we cannot use government funds for political advancement... The council is not a rubber stamp! Our role is to temper the excesses of the executive under the principle of check and balance!” added Manatad.

The 2019 proposed annual budget will undergo a second and final reading next week.