By Jovee Marie de la Cruz, April 2 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

The chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations on Monday urged President Duterte to consider restoring several items in the proposed 2019 P3.757-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) that have been removed by the Senate.

In a news statement, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., the panel chairman, said the Senate has decided to reduce this year’s allocation for the President’s “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program and other priority projects.

“It is the Senate that may find itself liable to accusation of sabotage when it decided, unilaterally, to cut down the allocation for the President’s Build, Build, Build program and other priority projects,” he added.

“We are confident that the Office of the President would consider these items in their review and find ways on how to restore them in the President’s veto message,” Andaya said.

Plain obfuscation—Sotto

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, took a dig at Andaya’s claims, and described it as a “last-minute attempt to obfuscate the issue, and try to prevent the President’s veto of their illegal realignments.”

Sotto added: “Even their colleagues know. No excuses necessary because the President knows everything.”

According to Andaya, the items taken out of the 2019 GAA by the Senate include, but not limited to, the following: Department of Transportation’s P5 billion for right-of-way  projects; Department of Public Works and Highways’s (DPWH) P11.033 billion also for ROW projects and foreign assisted projects worth P2.5 billion.

“Depriving the government with funds for right-of-way and other infrastructure projects will surely hamper the implementation of the President’s Build, Build, Build program. Construction on priority projects including mass transit and railway systems will be mostly affected,” he added.

Andaya said the Senate has also removed Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s P3 billion for scholarship of rebel returnees, out-of-school youths and rehabilitating drug dependents enrolled under the Universal Access to Tertiary Education.

“As a result, at least 320,000 students enrolled under the program will lose their scholarship this year,” he said.

The lawmaker said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s P2.254 billion for National Greening Program, which resulted in 50-percent budget cut for all Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officers, except Antique,  have also been allegedly removed.

“Department of Foreign Affairs’s P7.5-billion budget for SEA [Southeast Asian] Games taken out, but P5 billion transferred to Philippine Sports Commission and P2.5 billion nowhere to be found,” he added.

Andaya also said Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) worth P13.4 billion will also be affected.

“The MPBF is one of three sources of money paid to government personnel. The other two are the budgets lodged under each agency and the Pension and Gratuity Fund. Under Special Provision No. 1, the MPBF may be used for ‘deficiencies in authorized salaries, bonuses, allowances, associated premiums and other similar personnel benefits of national government personnel….,’” he added.

Andaya said the Pension and Gratuity Fund worth P39 billion will also be affected.

This fund covers the payment for the pension of AFP retirees; war or military veterans of the DND; retired uniformed personnel of the DILG, PC-INP, Namria and Philippine Coast Guard; and other retirees of the national government.

It also includes retirement benefits for optional retirees of the national government; retired personnel of government-owned and -controlled corporations which are financially unable to pay said benefits, and personnel devolved to LGUs.

Andaya also emphasized that the details of these budget cuts were not fully discussed in the bicameral conference committee.

“The senators unilaterally decided on the budget cuts and realigned them to other items based on request of individual proponents. Up to now, the Senate has yet to make public a detailed report on the proponents who recommended the individual realignments,” he said.

The 2019 GAB has been transmitted for signature of President Duterte, and it is expected to be signed after the Office of the President has wrapped up its review of the veto message.

Meanwhile, Andaya said the House respects the veto power of the President.  With Butch Fernandez