MANILA, Philippines - The Senate passed the P1.645-trillion national budget for fiscal year 2011 on Wednesday night, capping off long days of debates particularly on the controversial cash grant to poor families, which was eventually approved by the majority.
In a 12-2 vote, the Senate approved House Bill 3101 with Senate minority leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Pia Cayetano voting against the administration's spending plans.
After the bill was approved on second reading, the Senate moved to also approve it on third and final reading, bypassing a 3-day rule in between approvals.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano expressed hope that the ratified budget will be used by the government righteously. He said, "ang budget na ito ay hawig din sa Arroyo budget, pero kung walang korapsyon, people will get more."
The Senate version of the budget largely tracks President Aquino's spending plans, with critical investments in social services aimed at reining in poverty incidence, such as the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
Senators also voted to maintain the President's CCT program amid calls to cut part of the program's P21.9 billion.
Sen. Joker Arroyo, in his "turno en contra" on the 2011 budget, a traditional speech of the minority before the ratification of the General Appropriations Act, said: "Allocation of scarce funds is so lopsided, an overconcentration on the DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development]. Out of the P21 billion allotted for Conditional Cash Transfer Program, P4 billion or 19% will be spent for the gargantuan administrative cost to distribute the P17 billion cash transfer to beneficiaries."
Senate finance committee chair Franklin Drilon said the cash grant of at least P1,400 monthly seeks to cover 2.3 million household beneficiaries or half of the estimated 4.6 million poor families living below the poverty line.
The CCT program, which was initiated by the Arroyo administration, currently covers 1 million beneficiaries or about 25% of total poor families. The Aquino administration wants the coverage to be increased to 50% or 2.3 million families by next year, Drilon said.
Pork barrel for SUCs not restored
As for state universities and colleges (SUCs), Drilon said the chamber will increase subsidies for state schools from the proposed P21.7 billion submitted by the President to Congress.
"They [SUCs] will not suffer any cuts. But let me emphasize that those items in the SUC budget which were inserted and which were vetoed by President Arroyo cannot be brought back. We cannot reinstate the P1.7 billion in congressional insertions and initiatives," Drilon said.
"We will make certain that the 2011 maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) will be at least at the same level as the 2010 MOOE as appearing in the National Expenditure Program," he added.
A bicameral conference committee will be convened on December 6 or 7 to iron out disagreements between the Senate and House versions of the budget, Drilon said.
Ratification of the budget measure, meanwhile, will be on December 13, he added.
Aside from Drilon, the Senate bicameral panel will be represented by Senators Edgardo Angara, Ralph Recto, Jinggoy Estrada, and Alan Peter Cayetano.
The House of Representatives had approved its version of the budget on third reading last November 8.
Congress is scheduled to start its holiday break on December 18.