The chairman of the Senate body in charge of the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said there is “absolutely no time” for the adjourned Congress to tackle the agency’s request for a P6.7 billion aid package for families who could be affected by El Niño.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, who also chairs the Finance subcommittee overseeing the DSWD budget, instead suggested that the funds being sought to help an estimated 2.5 million families be sourced from the P38.9 billion Calamity Fund.
Another alternative, Recto said, is for the government “to ramp up spending of its P766.5 billion public sector infrastructure budget this year so that local jobs can be created, especially in El Niño areas.”
Included in the above are allocations for farm projects, like the P14.7 billion for the construction or repair of farm-to-market roads and the P25.5 billion for irrigation, Recto said.
Recto also called for the fast implementation of P24.7 billion worth of Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) projects, “which people in the grassroots themselves identified.
Government is also building 43,000 classrooms this year, at a cost of P61.8 billion, he said. “If the funds for these can be mobilized, just think of how many jobs it can create.
“The idea is to create an assistance fund which is an ideal mixture of jobs and social assistance. It cannot be purely dole out. There should be a sweat equity on the part of the recipient,” he said.
There are “hundreds of billions” already appropriated, the senator stressed. “It is just a matter of quick but judicious spending. If there is natural calamity coming, we should not aggravate it with the man-made disaster called underspending.”
“Sa agriculture na lang, halos P95 billion ang nakalaan na pondo sa taong ito, P56.6 billion sa Department of Agriculture (DA) at P38.4 billion sa Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization,” he said.
Recto explained that “if by ‘supplemental budget’, the DSWD meant one that is given by Congress, I think that route is closed.”
Congress has adjourned for a three-and-half month election break. It will reconvene in the last week of May: first, to act as a presidential canvassing board and then to wrap up unfinished business during what is considered a “lame duck session.”
Recto said “[DSWD Secretary] Dinky’s best bet is to get funds from the Palace. Because if it would come from Congress, then it would come in June, after summer, when the full brunt of El Niño is already in effect.”
“Kung dito sa lehislatura, at kung sa Mayo pa, parang tapos na ang sunog saka lang maaapprove ang pambili ng fire extinguisher. Tutal nandyan na ang pondo, so doon sya humingi sa Palasyo,” he added.
In addition to the almost P40 billion Calamity Fund, which is officially called the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund, Recto said there is also the “P2.5 billion presidential Contingent Fund” which can be tapped.
Even the DSWD, Recto pointed out, has funds outside what has been earmarked for Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), which can be tapped.
“There’s almost P11 billion for community -built projects under the KALAHI-CIDDS National Community Driven Development program. Meron pang P9.6 billion for livelihood,” he said.
DSWD’s budget this year is P110.4 billion.
“Maraming oportunidad para sa food-for-work or emergency employment sa kanayunan. Sabi mismo ng pamahalaan, 1,285 kilometro ng farm-to-market road ang gagawin at 37,068 kilometers ng irrigation canal ang aayusin ngayong taon,” Recto said.