The House of Representatives to the bicameral conference committee will push P77 billion in institutional amendments to the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget bill to augment the funds for education, health, transportation, and other critical social services, Speaker Martin Romualdez said Sunday.
Romualdez said he is confident the Senate contingent to the bicam budget meeting, set to resume today, would agree to the amendments.
“We really feel that these institutional amendments will redound to the benefit of the people. We will not make any mistakes if we put the welfare of the people first,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“And we are confident that the Senate and the House bicam members will see eye-to-eye on this. Our objectives are the same: to pass a people’s budget that reflects President Marcos Jr.’s eight-point economic agenda that will help the country bounce back from the pandemic,” the Speaker added.
Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, appropriations committee chairman, echoed Romualdez’s statements.
“Our amendments can speak for themselves. You can see that is indeed pro-people and pro-development as we prioritized health, education, and transportation. We are confident that if the Senate and the House approve these amendments, we can recover well from the pandemic in 2023,” Co said.
The institutional amendments are “ayuda” or aid programs that would directly benefit the people.
Among these are P12.5 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P5.5 billion for the Department of Transportation for fuel subsidies, and P5 billion for the Department of Labor and Employment’s emergency work program for displaced workers.
“What we did was allocate more budget to pro-people programs without need to sacrifice our national programs and projects for job creation.
We are confident that there will be no contentions with our amendments here,” Co said.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, urged lawmakers to craft a national budget that “leaves no Filipino behind” and which focuses on investments in the regions and provinces, saying these will ultimately benefit the entire country.
Noting that allocations have usually favored the National Capital Region (NCR) and other highly urbanized cities, the senator said the 2023 budget should be made instrumental in distributing growth more evenly across the country.
“We should make every effort to provide quality jobs all over the country and not just in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other urban centers. It’s time we replicate this growth in other regions,” he said.
Cayetano, a long-time advocate for regional planning and rural development, said all Filipinos “deserve the chance to live a full life no matter where they live.”
“Equity is an essential element of unity. Equity is fairness. It is social justice. It is the key in providing opportunity for all Filipinos to fulfill their potential not just for themselves but for the benefit of the entire nation,” he said.
“There is no equity if Metro Manila and highly urbanized cities are the ones that are always favored (in terms of the budget),” he added.
Cayetano also called on the government to ensure that every barangay in the country has electricity, water supply, internet connection, a good elementary and high school, and health centers, thereby making rural life “a real choice for a safe and comfortable life” for Filipinos.
He added that every province should have at least one good tertiary hospital, noting that the largest concentration of such facilities is in the National Capital Region (NCR) with around 60 while the regions are left with only around five each on average.
“This means there are provinces where the people have to travel far to get good health services,” he said.
During the pandemic, many Filipinos returned to their respective hometowns to start a new life with their families, Cayetano said.
He said more would be willing to move to the countryside if they see the government seriously investing in water, electricity, internet connectivity, health, and education services across the country, as well as in agriculture and infrastructure.
“Projects like irrigation, farm-to-market roads, bridges, and others like these will pump-prime quality jobs in rural areas,” the senator said.
“Metro Manila is the political and financial capital of the Philippines, but this should not mean economic activity should be concentrated in the National Capital Region,” Cayetano said.