By Jelly F. Musico
MANILA, Dec. 14 (PNA) — The Senate unanimously ratified on Monday the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed PhP3.002-trillion national budget for 2016.
Except for former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero, all the 15 senators present expressed no reservation and ratified the bicam committee report on House Bill No. 6132 or 2016 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Escudero did not oppose the ratification but “reserved the rights to submit a written explanation on the vote on the bicam report.”
Last Wednesday, the bicam approved the GAB after consolidating the respective versions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“We are confident that the President (Benigno Aquino III) will be able to sign the proposed 2016 national budget into law before Christmas,” Senator Loren Legarda, current Senate Finance Committee chairperson, said.
The bicam-approved budget contains additional PhP10.5 billion funding for the air assets of the Philippine Air Force (PAF)and for health service support enhancement, protection kit and equipment of the Philippine Army (PA).
With the huge increase, the Department of National Defense (DND) has now a total budget of PhP126.64 billion.
Other highlights of the budget is the strong support for quality education with the increased allocation for the Department of Education (DepEd) to support the implementation of the K-12 Program, particularly for the construction of classrooms and hiring of additional teachers.
The DepEd has the highest budget allocation amounting to PhP411.905 billion next year, followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with PhP385 billion; DND, PhP126 billion; and Department of Health (DOH), PhP124 billion.
Drilon said the main features of the budget include the PhP57 billion allotted for the first phase of the 2015 Salary Standardization Law (2015 SSL) in 2016 which the Senate earlier approved on third and final reading.
For the first time, the national budget includes funding for the payment of the total administrative disability (TAD) pension for surviving spouses of deceased World War II veterans and partial payment for TAD pension for living post-war veterans who are at least 80 years of age as of 2016, according to Legarda.
Meanwhile, under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) budget, apart from the National Greening Program, Congress is funding, for the first time, capacity building programs for the implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, a long-time unfunded law.
Also included in the DENR budget is funding for the National Coral Restoration Program.
Legarda said she introduced such funding because, as a maritime nation with 240 million hectares of marine area, the protection of marine ecosystems, primarily through massive coral restoration, should be a priority of government.
The bicam committee also approved general and special provisions introduced by Legarda that would ensure the integration of disaster and climate resilience, environmental and heritage conservation, and sustainability in the programs of various government agencies.
Critical public infrastructure must be designed and built to be resilient to strong earthquakes, typhoons, flood and other extreme weather events. In retrofitting bridges and other public infrastructure, the government shall give priority to areas considered to be highly vulnerable to seismic activity.
Other highlights of the GAB include the PhP269.4 million increase to the budget of the Office of the Vice President, bringing its total budget for 2016 to PhP500 million.
The Senate also increased the State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) budget by PhP2.7 billion as additional funding for the “TulongDunong” program, academic buildings, provision of equipment and other needed facilities, bringing its total budget to PhP47 billion.
Once ratified also by the House, the 2016 national budget will be approved by President Aquino expectedly before Christmas, according to Drilon. (PNA)