House passes proposed 2018 budget on final reading

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 26, passed the proposed 2018 national budget on 3rd and final reading. 

During plenary, 223 legislators voted in favor of the bill while 9 voted against it. 

House Bill Number 6215 or the 2018 General Appropriations Bill in the House, details the P3.767 billion budget that the government is setting aside for the coming year. The House began deliberations on the proposed budget in August 2017, beginning with debates at the House appropriations committee.  

Plenary deliberations began in the first week of September and ended after a little over a week.

Biggest allocations

In a statement, appropriations committee chairman and Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles said the budget includes over P40 billion to fund a newly-signed landmark law that will provide free tuition to students of public universities, colleges, and technical or vocational institutions.

At the same time, however, the House decided to slash over P30 billion from the Department of Education (DepEd)’s school building program – the biggest cut a government agency received after House scrutiny.

The DepEd was asking for P122.96 billion for the program. Nograles said it was cut because of a “lack of buildable spaces and problems in school sites, among others.”

Still, the DepEd is getting a P583.1 billion budget for 2018, a P2 billion rise from its 2017 budget.

The education sector will still get among the biggest chunks in the proposed budget. State Universities and Colleges are getting P61.6 billion, the Commission on Higher Education is getting P49.9 billion, while the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority is getting P6.9 billion.

The P30 billion cut from DepEd will instead be used to fund the free tuition law, said Nograles.

Nograles said the following departments or agencies are getting the biggest budgets in 2018:

Controversies

This year’s budget was not without its controversies.

During committee hearings for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) budget, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the agency should not be given a budget because it supposedly failed to fulfill its mandate.

During plenary deliberations, the House voted to give the commission a mere P1,000 for 2018. Two other agencies joined to so-called “P1,000 club”: the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

But the House leadership eventually decided to restore the budgets of the 3 agencies. In Gascon’s case, it happened after a quick meeting with Alvarez, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and Nograles.

The “restored” budget, however, still saw a P100 million cut from its proposed budget of over P700 million for 2018. Cebu City 1st District Representative Raul del Mar, who sponsored the CHR budget and voted against the cut, said before plenary that he hoped the CHR budget would be restored in full during the bicameral committee conference.

Now that the House has passed its version of the budget, it will be forwarded to the Senate, which has already began its own deliberations. Once the Senate passes its own version, the differences will be ironed out through a bicameral conference committee, which members from both chambers are part of.

Votes against

The following lawmakers voted against the proposed budget:

Alejano said he was against the budget because it "patronizes killings and desecrates the rule of law, overlooks inefficiency and incompetence, slowly erodes our democratic processes, and effectively neglects the exclusive enjoyment of its citizens over the country’s national wealth by foregoing the government’s obligation of defending its territory."

Aside from Alejano and Atienza, the 7 who voted against the budget belong to the Makabayan bloc, an alliance of progressive organizations. The Makabayan bloc used to be part of the "supermajority," composed of PDP Laban members and Duterte allies from various parties.

It decided to leave the coalition "to intensify [their] opposition to the Duterte administration that has now fully unraveled as a fascist, pro-imperialist, and anti-people regime." 

Brosas called it a "destroy, destroy, destroy" budget. 

Members of the Makabayan bloc opposed the HB 6216, saying that the Duterte administration's proposed budget pushed for major infrastructure plans without considering the relocation of those who will be affected, cuts in the education and health sector, ongoing bloody and popular campaign against illegal drugs, and failure to address the needs of the poor including genuine land reform, housing, and human rights programs, to name a few. 

Both Castro Elago also raised concern over the source of funding for budget. Some P888.23 billion will be sources from loans both local and international. – Rappler.com