The Philippine Senate moved quickly to pass a P1.645-trillion national budget for fiscal year 2011 Wednesday night, capping off long days of debates particularly on the controversial cash grant to poor families which eventually saw the approval of the majority.
In the voting, the Senate approved House Bill 3101 on a 12-2 vote, with Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Pia Cayetano voting against the administration’s spending plans. The Palace-certified measure has been simultaneously approved on second and third reading, bypassing a three-day rule in between approvals.
Senator Franklin Drilon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, lauded the move, saying the chamber kept its promise in preventing the government from operating on a reenacted budget next year that could further put a dent on critical sectors of the society.
“The approval of the budget demonstrated concerns for the people’s needs,” Drilon said.
The Senate version of the budget largely tracks President Benigno C. Aquino III’s spending plans, with critical investments in social services aimed at reining in poverty incidence, with the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program a priority in the budget.
A bicameral conference committee will be convened on December 6 or 7 to iron out disagreements between the Senate and House versions of the budget, Drilon said. Ratification of the budget measure, meanwhile, will be on December 13, he added.
Senators also voted to maintain the President’s CCT program, amid calls to cut part of the program’s P21.9 billion allocation and realign to education, agriculture and health services. Senators questioned the capability of the Department of Social Welfare and Development as the implementing agency to handle such a huge amount.
“The CCT is approved en toto, P21 billion, without cut,” Drilon stated.
“We do recognize that there are problems. There are monitors and we will be requiring reports from the DSWD on a regular basis,” Drilon assured, adding that he included a measure aimed at overseeing the implementation of CCT as part of the “safeguards” effected by the chamber for the program’s effective implementation.
The cash grant of at least P1,400 monthly seeks to cover 2.3 million household beneficiaries or half of the estimated 4.6 million poor families living below the poverty line.
The program, which was initiated by the previous administration, currently covers 1 million beneficiaries or about 25% of total poor families and the Aquino administration wanted the coverage to be increased further to 50% or 2.3 million families by next year.
As for state universities and colleges (SUCs), Drilon said the chamber will increase subsidies for state schools from the proposed P21.7 billion submitted by the President to Congress.
“They [SUCs] will not suffer any cuts. But let me emphasize that those items in the SUC budget which were inserted and which were vetoed by President Arroyo cannot be brought back. We cannot reinstate the P1.7 billion in congressional insertions and initiatives,” Drilon said.
“We will make certain that the 2011 maintenance and other operating expenses will be at least at the same level as the 2010 MOOE as appearing in the National Expenditure Program. Further, the 2011 budget for SUCs will carry the amount necessary to comply with the salary increases in compliance with the Salary Standardization Law,” he added.
The P880 million budget allocated for purchase of contraceptives has also been reduced, Drilon said, without providing estimates.
The House of Representatives had approved its version of the budget on third reading last November 8.
Congress is scheduled to start its holiday break on December 18.