MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is retaining lump sums of P150 million for "intelligence expenses" and another P150 million for "confidential expenses" while reducing funding for his own office by P223 million.
The 2015 budget proposal increased by P341 billion to P2.606 trillion from this year’s P2.26 trillion.
The proposed budget Aquino submitted to Congress on Wednesday through Budget Secretary Florencio Abad shows that funding for the Office of the President (OP) proper would go down from this year’s P2.791 billion to P2.568 billion.
In 2013, Aquino’s office had P2.295 billion.
The decrease in appropriations for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlay (CO) like equipment purchase accounts for the reduction.
MOOE would go down from P1.998 billion this year to P1.911 billion in 2015, while CO would fall from P183.4 million to just P20 million.
However, provisions for salaries would go up by P28 million from P608.3 million to P636.9 million.
Aside from a combined P300-million intelligence-confidential fund, the OP would have P172.4 million for travel, P434.5 million for subsidies and donations, P137.3 million for professional services (hiring of consultants), P95.2 million for utilities, P85.6 million for repair and maintenance, P67.3 million for training and scholarship, P97.4 million for rentals, P15.9 million for advertising and P64.4 million for representation expenses.
The OP has 1,251 authorized personnel positions, 859 of which are filled, while 392 are vacant.
Funding for the filling of vacant jobs is included in a lump sum called Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPDF) and forms part of government savings if unused.
Abad has said MPBF savings between 2011 and 2013 were used to fund the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program.
According to a Commission on Audit report on salaries and allowances of high-ranking officials in the bureaucracy, the OP proper has 55 officers with the rank of secretary, undersecretary and assistant secretary.
The highest paid among them, Rene Almendras, who is Cabinet secretary, earned P1.837 million in 2013, slightly higher than the P1.802 million that Ronald Llamas pocketed.
Llamas, who is presidential adviser on political affairs and holds the rank of secretary, had in the past attracted controversy. He was once photographed buying fake DVDs from a Quiapo shop.
Llamas earned more than Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who received P1.780 million. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda took home P1.760 million.
Another presidential adviser, Danilo Cortez, pocketed P1.804 million.
Vice President Jejomar Binay will have P222.6 million for next year, up by more than P5 million from this year’s P217.3 million.
The bulk of his 2015 budget – P177.7 million – will be for “ceremonial and technical support services.”
Some P47.5 million will be for salaries. His office has 96 in authorized personnel positions, of which 84 are filled.
Binay will not have an intelligence fund, but he will have P86 million for the grant of “financial assistance/subsidy” to people seeking his help.
He will also have P23.9 million for travel, P6 million for communication expenses, P15 million for representation expenses, P13.5 million for consultants, and P8.9 million for rentals.
The COA report on salaries and allowances shows that the highest paid officer in Binay’s office is Benjamin Martinez Jr., his chief of staff.
Martinez took home P1.6 million in 2013, while his assistant, Rosalie Licauco, earned P1.4 million.
Classrooms and sanitation facilities
The administration has allocated some P52.7 billion for new classrooms and sanitation facilities under the proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015.
Abad said the amount is allocated to “basic education facilities” that include 31,728 new classrooms and 13,586 “water and sanitation facilities,” presumably toilets and wash areas.
The government has also allocated some P2 billion for the Training for Work scholarship program of the Technical Education and Livelihood Skills Development Authority to train 210,526 workers in agri-fishery, tourism, semi-conductor and electronics and other fields.
The proposed 2015 national budget was submitted to the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. vowed speedy passage of the measure to ensure the continued delivery of basic services and further boost growth.
‘Budget increase justified’
Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Treñas meanwhile said yesterday the 15 percent increase in the proposed budget was justified as the spending program was meant to boost growth.
He said the proposed spending program “would cement President Aquino’s legacy not just as one who brought vibrance to the country’s economy
but one who institutionalized a budget system that that ensures spending within means, on the right priorities, and with measurable results.”
“This is solid proof that good governance is good economics,” Treñas said.
“We have a 15.1 percent increase in our budget compared to last year because with the Aquino administration’s success in plugging all the leaks in our public spending, we are now generating more money to spend. Hence, we can now afford to have a bigger national budget.”
He said the proposed national outlay is focused on priority programs and projects that seek to ensure inclusive and sustained development so that the people can finally feel the effects of the country’s economic growth.
“People are constantly complaining that they do not feel the effects of our improving economy but truthfully, this is easier said than done. The government cannot do this overnight but we are now seeing the beginnings of a wider and more sustained inclusive development that directly impacts on our people, particularly the poorest of the poor,” he said.
He said Aquino’s fiscal management reforms have allowed the government to stop billions of public funds from being squandered to corruption and wasteful government projects.
“The budget is now focused on employment and livelihood generation to uplift the lives of the poorest of the poor, including the tens of thousands of families whose lives and dreams were devastated by the recent calamities,” he said.
He said the administration’s “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process” has allowed the involvement of community-based organizations and local civil service organizations to engage 1,633 cities and municipalities in developing the 2015 national budget that focuses on local poverty reduction programs and projects.
This participatory budgeting process, he said, led to a larger allocation of P20.9 billion in 2015, from P8 billion in 2013 and P20 billion in 2014, to fund local projects, such as potable water supply, agricultural infrastructure and facilities support, rural healthcare
facilities and sustainable livelihood programs.
RH services and products
Aquino is seeking P3.3 billion for reproductive health (RH) services and products.
Abad said the funding would implement the RH Law and would be used principally to make family planning commodities and services available to women and local government units, and to provide vitamin A supplement to children below five years of age.
The proposed budget also includes P13.1 billion for the upgrading of 128 local government hospitals, 11 treatment and rehabilitation centers and more than 1,800 city, municipal and rural health centers.
Funding is provided for the hiring of 12,540 nurses, 5,749 midwives, 480 dentists and 398 doctors.
“The administration is hiring more health workers and building better facilities to prevent citizens from getting sick and paying more for costly treatment,” Aquino said in his budget message to Congress.
Some 15.4 million indigent Filipinos will be covered by health insurance under PhilHealth in 2015, with the government paying for their coverage.
The budget also includes another P3.3 billion for the immunization of 2.2 million children.
“A good healthcare system builds the stamina of workers to fuel the daily grind of the economy,” Aquino said.
“A broken healthcare system leads to most citizens paying for their own treatment due to lack of insurance, or to not seeing a medical professional in their lifetimes due to a lack of health facilities in their communities.”
He said the sin tax reform law has enabled the government to provide better health services.
The current Congress approved the law after previous Congresses failed to pass it for more than 16 years, allowing tobacco and alcohol companies to enjoy lower tax rates.
The sin tax reform measure increased such rates and provided for an automatic adjustment mechanism.
The Supreme Court recently declared the RH Law as constitutional. The statute is another legislation that took Congress more than 10 years to pass.
Former lawmaker Edcel Lagman, an author of the RH bill in the House, said the recent increase of the country’s population to 100 million should prompt the government to vigorously implement the RH law.
“An increasing population imperils infinite resources and strains limited budgets,” he said.
He said the government should now extend reproductive health care, services and products to marginalized people who are willing acceptors of RH and family planning programs.
He said the Department of Health (DOH) should immediately procure medically safe, legal and effective contraceptives and devices for distribution to the poor and to the local government units.
The DOH should also retrain barangay health workers “so that they could competently assist in the implementation of the RH Law,” he added. – With Paolo Romero