MANILA, Philippines - With the cost of rebuilding regions devastated by the killer typhoon Yolanda and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake seen to reach staggering level, Senate President Franklin Drilon is urging the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to immediately submit a revised version of the proposed P2.268- trillion national budget for 2014 to reflect massive rehabilitation expenses.
“The 2014 budget proposal clearly did not take into account the need for massive and immediate rehabilitation of the destruction of the Visayas area,” Drilon told reporters at the Manila Hotel.
“I think the present budget and the President’s Social Fund can handle the relief operations. But what is critical is the rehabilitation. I would propose that the budget be reconstituted so that we can have a massive rehabilitation fund in the 2014 budget,” he added.
He said it’s important that the DBM submit a revised budget as soon as possible as the Senate is about to start its debates on the proposed budget program.
Drilon said the DBM would be in the best position to make the revision since it knows where to source the funds for rehabilitation works. But he admitted the task of recasting the national budget would not be easy considering the scope of the destruction brought about by typhoon Yolanda alone in the Visayas region. “This requires extraordinary solutions,” Drilon said.
The Senate president said funds for rehabilitation may also be drawn from an augmented calamity fund under the Office of the President or from special fund created for the purpose.
Drilon explained that the DBM would have to collate all of the information regarding the cost of rehabilitating the affected areas and figure out which of the different expenditure items in the budget would have to take cuts in order to release funds for the rehabilitation efforts.
The DBM may then submit a revised version of the budget measure to the Senate, which would introduce the revisions as amendments during plenary debates starting on Nov. 18 when Congress resumes session after a three-week break.
Drilon said he is set to discuss the matter with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
“If the DBM agrees with this proposal, then it should be submitted to the Senate as soon as we open our debates on the 2014 budget because there is really a need to recast the 2014 budget,” Drilon said.
Senate committee on finance chairman Francis Escudero said he is also studying two options similar to what Drilon has proffered.
Escudero said the calamity fund definitely has to be increased because the appropriated P7.5 billion is not enough to cover the requirements of rehabilitation. He also said a special fund should be created on top of the calamity fund.
He said it’s important that safeguards are in place to ensure that the allocated funds go to intended projects and beneficiaries.
He lamented that funds appropriated for rehabilitating areas ravaged by Sendong in 2011 and Pablo in 2012 had been misused.
Escudero also called on financial institutions including those controlled by the government to agree to a moratorium on the payment of debts by individuals and businesses in the areas affected by the recent calamities “in the spirit of bayanihan.” He said a moratorium should also cover payment of interest charges on overdue debts.
He said a temporary reprieve from debt payment would help speed up the recovery of devastated areas.
Escudero said the same privilege should also be extended by financial institutions to public corporations and local government units.
“We are studying if we can legislate this because it may impair the obligations of contracts between parties. But there was already a precedence wherein it was done by an executive issuance,” he said.
Escudero noted that after the Second World War, then President Sergio Osmeña issued Executive Order No. 32 imposing a debt moratorium on financial institutions to help businesses and individuals recoup losses from the war.– With Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero