We are pleased to note that the General Appropriations Bill for 2017, which the Bicameral Conference Committee has approved for ratification by both chambers, carry the amendments initiated by the Senate minority leader.
Foremost is the P8 billion Free College Tuition Fund that is lodged with the Commission on Higher Education. This will exempt from basic matriculation close to a million state university and college students next year.
Also included is the P397 million additional building and equipment fund for SUCs, thus raising their budget for capital outlays to P9. 68 billion.
Two basic education initiatives we advocated were likewise upheld.
One is the provision of P100 million for DepED’s school site development plans, to expedite classroom construction. The other is the increase in the teacher’s supplies allowance, through the adoption of Senator Lacson’s more superior amendment that it be increased from P1,500 to P2,500.
We are successful in increasing by P1 billion the budget of the DSWD for school feeding. With this P4.42 billion, it can serve 1.74 million 2 to 4 year olds a nutritional meal each day for 120 days.
Another amendment of ours which has been ratified is the increase of the budget of the Doctors to the Barrio Program and the Rural Health Practice Program to P7.81 billion. Hopefully, this will foreclose the planned ‘endo’ of frontline nurses and other health personnel.
One health initiative we successfully fought for in the 2016 budget does not involve amounts but a key provision mandating that no Filipino shall be denied access and treatment to public hospitals and facilities pursuant to the principle of universal health care.
I am also happy to note that the Bicameral Conference Committee adopted our proposal for the creation of a P100-million “emergency repatriation fund” the Labor secretary could use to bring home distressed OFWs next year. Our advocacy for a bigger “help fund” for Filipinos abroad continues.
On the peace and security front, the final Congress version of the budget carries two initiatives we lobbied for which are designed to boost the equipment inventory of our uniformed services.
For the PNP, this is through a P5.63 billion fund for capacity enhancement which has been included in the Unprogrammed Fund. This will be used to buy more guns, build new stations, deploy new cars and fill other logistical voids.
For the Armed Forces and the PNP, we crafted a provision requiring the purchase of quality defense equipment, vehicles, armaments, and weaponry which local Filipino manufacturers are producing. Sourcing these locally will result in faster delivery times. In addition, it is a scheme that will provide jobs to the people.
We are also successful in sponsoring the construction of a NEDA regional office building in Southern Tagalog, to bring its services to the region with the second highest GDP.
Our amendment, however, to increase the budget of another DSWD program, the implementation of the Centenarians Act, was not carried for the valid reason that any deficiency will be charged to unspent amounts of the 2016 budget.
We have batted for a P3 billion increase in the medicines purchase budget of the Department of Health. But one intervening event partially met our request: The President’s decision to earmark P2 billion of PAGCOR earnings to stock up hospital pharmacies.
Our belief in the merits of these initiatives gives us the confidence that these will be affirmed by the executive.
We look forward to the pledge made by those who will execute the budget to promptly release the allocations in the proper manner because budget delayed is development denied.