2ND READING

The House of Representatives approved the P3.767 trillion national budget for 2018  on 2nd reading with allocations of just P1000 each for the Energy Regulatory Commission, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Commission on Human Rights.

Appropriations Committee Chair Karlo Nograles said HB No.6215 (2018 Budget ) will likely get approved on 3rd and final reading on September 21.

“Maring” could not stop the House of Representatives from approving House Bill 6215—the proposed national budget for 2018 after just 7 session days.

The CHR has been in the crosshairs of the administration as it has been heavily critical of the war on drugs.

The CHR’s original budget proposal was 623.38M. 1SAGIP Party List Rodante Marcoleta moved for the P1000 budget, which was objected to by Buhay Party List Rep. Lito Atienza. Marcoleta criticized the CHR for not upholding the human rights of everyone and failing to  go after criminals. Marcoleta also assailed the legal basis for the creation of the CHR, arguing it was only an executive fiat of the then President Cory Aquino which created the CHR. Atienza said that instead of being reduced, the CHR’s budget should be at 2B especially now that there are issues on human rights violations by the government.  Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman explained that marcoleta is accusing the CHR of derilection of duty for not invetsugating terrorist groups. Lagman said that Marcoleta failed to appreciate the differences between human rights violations and common crimes.”The CHR has no jurisidction over non-state parties. it has jurisidiction over offenses committed by the state and agents of the state.” Lagman says this is unconstitutional because a budget of P1000 is a virtual abolition of an agency created by the constitution. The CHR’s plenary sponsor, Raul del Mar also echoed Lagman’s position. “ its functions are misunderstood by our people. we need to be reminded that CHR was created to curb excesses in the seat of power.” Del Mar also hit the lack of empathy for CHR, which he thinks is because of the assumption that all victims of human rights violations are drug addicts. During the first ayes and nayes vote Presiding Officer Eric Singson said that the ayes had it though it is being disputed because congressman atienza says the nayes are louder.  The gallery was told not to join the voting. To clarify the results, the vote was taken again—those in favor of the amendment were asked to rise, those against were asked to stay seated. The result, 119 voted for the amendment, 32 objected. the CHR’s budget was reduced to P1000.

During an ambush interview. Commission on Human Rights Commissionner Gwen Pimentel Gana confirmed that Speaker Alvarez told her during their recent meeting that the CHR’s budget would be approved if CHR Chair Chito Gascon stepped down. “well he just expressed his  of course his feelings the same way he said to the public that he intends to pursue the P1000  budget for the CHR and of course he did mention that if the chair would step down then probably the budget would be increased or given to  the CHR”

Gascon  rejected the resignation call of the speaker. “we were given the whole commisison all 5 commisisoners a specific mandate to servce and protect human rights  and we had discussed this among oruselves of course  we will appeal to reason and necessity we look forward to the senate and actually the public  as well …have said that theyre ready to support us. the principa reason why i cannot resign my office is to do so would weaken the institution itself because under this set of cricumstances where the congress would  respond to  an independent constitutional office in this way and to threaten it with a reduction of its budget on the pretext of asking me to reisgn would lead to esssentially making the institution at the mercy of politics. “

Still Gascon is thankful to the 32 who supported the CHR. “ many of us were teary eyed…i became teary eyed because these were tears of joys…that there was so many who stood up. not the majority but so many in fact many of those at the first stage who didnt vote aye but ahd to stand up later also approached us.”

Gascon explained that life goes on for the CHR since the budget bill still has to go through the Senate and the bicameral conference committee before it is signed by the President. “we will of course seek clarification about the extent of this P1000 reduction..does it impact personnel  services component there are civil service rules that have to be consulted. we will defend the rights of civil servants..,regarding their entitlements as government employees. if we need go to the SC on this issue we will consider that as well. hindi pa siya  abolition dahil nasa constitution pa but sabi nga ng mga nag oppose sa motion  eh effective abolition yan but the commission will continue to operate so long as the constitution oeprates. despite this defeat in the house we look forward to defending our budget in the senate and we hope  that reason necessity rational minds will prevail both at the Senate as well as in the bicameral conference committee. the  act of the speaker and the majority today may constitute arbitrary whimsical and capricious act directed at the commission  and the constitution.”

Gascon refuted the  claims of the CHR critics about its performance. “ umasa kami na marami sa nga kongresista ay maninindigan para sa mandato ng CHR at bigyan kami ng karampatang budget nung unang botohan ayes and nayes malinaw naman ata na marami ang tumutol sa mungkahing gawin P1000 pero nung pagtayo na nakita natin ang resulta 119 to 32. nagpapasalamat kami sa 32 na nanindigan. it is our business to be a check on authority. the commission serves as a watchdog, a countervailing force dapat po di minamasama ng kongreso kung ginagawa po namin ang aming trabaho.”

in a statement, Magdalo rep. gary alejano said, “Ang mababang kapulungan ay nagmistulang instrumento ng Pangulo sa nais nitong pagbuwag ng CHR. The majority has recommended a P1000 budget for 2018 and has used its numbers to approve it. In effect, the House is abolishing the institution by reason that CHR is active in investigating violations of human rights perpetrated by the police under the administration’s war on drugs.  The House majority has refused to understand the mandate of the CHR which is explicitly enshrined in our Constitution. Bilang isang dating sundalo, malaki ang naitulong ng CHR upang lalong mapaintindi sa kasundaluhan ang konsepto at kahalagahan ng karapatang-pantao.  It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives has practically condoned widespread violations of human rights in the country today and has lost its power and mandate under the check and balance concept of our democracy. Pinapayagan nating maging diktador ang pangulo. We can only expect more violence and death under this administration.  Ang naganap ngayong araw sa mababang kapulungan ay isang direktang paglabag sa ating Saligang Batas. I pray that the Senate will do better in upholding our democracy and giving premium to basic human rights.”

Lagman also issued the following statement, “The reduction of the P623.3 million budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to a minuscule and disgraceful P1,000 annually is virtually imposing the death penalty on a constitutionally created and mandated independent office.The Constitution provides in Section 17 of Article XIII provides: “There is hereby created an independent office called the Commission on Human Rights.”Emasculating and killing the CHR with an annual budget of P1,000 is unconstitutional because it virtually abolishes a constitutional office by legislative fiat.By creating the CHR, the Constitution insulates the CHR from partisan incursions. To further safeguard the independence of the CHR, the Constitution gives it fiscal autonomy. The Constitution provides: “The approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released.” It is the height of irony to automatically release P1,000.In the midst of unabated extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations, it behooves Congress to ensure that the CHR continue to exercise its constitutionally mandated powers and functions.It is an errant and flawed policy to penalize the entire agency for some perceived, yet unwarranted, “shortcomings” of some leading officials of the agency.There is a distinction between common crimes and violations of human rights. Not all killings, abductions, and ambushes are considered human rights violations.By international and domestic standards, a human rights violation is an offense committed by the State or agents of the State. Rebels, terrorists and outlaws are non-State actors. Crimes committed by non-state actors are subject to prosecution under the Revised Penal Code (RPC).For example, kidnapping and serious illegal detention is an offense committed by private individuals that is penalized under the RPC, while enforced disappearance, which is committed by agents of the State, is a separate criminalized human rights violation penalized under R.A. 10353 the “Anti Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012”. During the viva voce voting, those who voted “nay” against the motion to reduce the CHR budget to P1,000 clearly won over the “ayes”, although the Presiding Officer ruled mistakenly that the “ayes” won. The majority of the Members of the House held their conviction in the anonymity of a voice vote. However, when the House was divided by rising, the majority of “nays” dissipated because so many could not hold on to their conviction in the open against the dictates of the supermajority leadership.”

Separately, Congressman Rocamora opposes 1,000 or “zero” budget for CHR “I believe that the Commission on Human Rights has a constitutional mandate to safeguard our citizens from abuse. It is the duty of the commission to ensure that human rights in the country are respected and that our institutions are resolute in this undertaking. Congress is duty-bound to provide the CHR with the budget it needs to fulfill its mandate”

Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene Bag-ao said, “I, as a human rights advocate and as the representative of Dinagatnons in Congress, cannot– in good conscience– vote in favor of a national budget that does not give any value to HUMAN RIGHTS.”

According to the Press and Public Affairs Bureau of the House, The plenary staff merely counted those who rose up. From the video footage, the PPAB identified the following to have voted “NO”‘….Rep. Emmi de Jesus, Rep. Kit Belmonte, Rep. Lito  Atienza, Rep.  Carlos Zarate, Rep. Sarah Elago, Rep. Gary  Alejano, Rep. Ariel Casilao, Rep. Arlene Brosas, Rep. Antonio Tinio, Rep. Raul Del Mar, Rep. edcel  Lagman, Rep.  Raul Daza, Rep. Jocelyn  Limkaichong, Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Rep. Arlene Bag-ao, Rep. Lawrence Fortun.

Bayan Muna moved to reduce the NCIP budget for failing to act on the plight of lumads.  Bayan Muna Partylist representative Carlos Isagani Zarate moved to reduce the budget of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to P1,000 from its original budget of P1,132,360,000, citing its utter failure to defend the rights of national minorities. 

“On the contrary, the NCIP even, directly or indirectly, facilitated in several instances the violation of the rights of the national minorities,” Rep. Zarate said.

The motion was carried by the House of Representatives without objection.

“We had insisted on the reduction of the budget NCIP in response to the strong clamor of the lumads and other national minorities, including those from  the Sandugo who are now here in the capital for the lakbayan,” he added.

“Again, the NCIP instead of protecting the ancestral lands of the national minorities, it had been instrumental in its massive loss and plunder to large-scale mining,  energy projects. The NCIP has been blind, deaf, and mute as hundreds of indigenous peoples have been killed thoughout since its instutionalization in 1998,” the progressive lawmaker said.

“More than 2,000 indigenous peoples are here in Metro Manila to echo their plight: the historic neglect of their national minorities, compounded with development aggression and counter-insurgency programs has resulted, and is resulting to ethnocide. They are resolute in the stand to abolish the NCIP and the scrapping of the inutile Indigenous People’s Rights Act,” Rep. Zarate ended

The ERC’s budget was previously reduced amid its failure to act on various controversies against its officials who have been held accountable for procurement issues and rulings that supposedly benefitted a favored power distributor. The ERC’s original budget proposal was at over 350M.

The bill, was certified as urgent, waiving the 3 day requirement before a vote on 3rd reading can be taken.

The House came to work even as government cancelled work in its offices today.

The plenary terminated debates on the budgets of the remaining agencies such as the DTI, SUC, MMDA, CHR. DSWD, DAR, ARMM and other smaller agencies. the deliberatons on the budgets of agencies came one after the other within minutes since congressmen asked few questions or no questions some agencies.

A small committee composed of the following congressmen was created to process proposals for individual amendments by congressmen. Small Committee: 1. Karlo B. Nograles 2. Rodolfo C. Fariñas 3. Maria Carmen S. Zamora 4. Federico S. Sandoval III 5. Mark Aaron M. Sambar 6. Dakila Carlo Cua 7. Danilo E. Suarez. Yhe deadline for submission of amendments is this Friday.

Gabriela Women’s Party said, “There is nothing commendable in convening this chamber amid the heavy rains and flooding only to railroad on second reading a national budget that will swamp Filipinos with more economic burden, ensure the continuation of bloodbath against poor, and inundate communities with mega-infrastructure projects. “

The top 10 agencies are still:

DepED (including SUCs and CHED) 691.1B

DPWH             643.3 B

DILG 172.3 B

DOH (including PHIC) 164.3B

DND 145B

DSWD 138B

DOTR 73.8B

DA 54.2B

ARMM 33.5B

DENR 27.9B

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) proposed a total of P3.767 trillion national budget for 2018, with the biggest allocation granted to education and infrastructure development.

By sector social services for the lion’s share with 1.45 trillion, followed by economic services, 1.15 trillion,  General Public Services 636.5M, Debt Burden 370.8B and Defense 155.7B.

  The second national budget crafted under the Duterte administration, the 2018 budget represents 21.6% of the projected gross domestic product (GDP) for next year and is 12.4% higher than the 2017 budget which is P3.35 trillion.

The Congress of the Philippines will get a total of 14.67B for 2018. 4.2B will go to the Senate, 270.45M to the Senate Electoral tribunal, 659.32M to the Commission on Appointments, 9.35B to the House of Representatives, 182.38M to the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.

Lump sums also rose. The National Risk Reduction and Management Fund for 2018 is 25.5B up from 15.75B in 2017. The Contingent Fund is at 13B in 2018 from 5.5B in 2017.  The Pension and Gratuity Fund is at 145.75B in 2018 from 141.91B in 2017.

The Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund  however is 84.46B in 2018 from 89.102B in 2017.

During his Turno En Contra, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez scored the government underspending from the previous administration until now. “From 2013 to 2016, I have compared the utilization rates of the major government agencies. The data showed that most government agencies are not able to fully utilize their budgets. It has been a “practice” to return to national treasury billions of unused appropriations. This practice, however, reflects failure to deliver the supposed public services, hence the lack of quality roads, buildings, medicines, food, shelter, education, military supplies and other resources, support, and services from the government. We have noticed increases in the budget for agencies with low utilization rate. During the deliberations, we sought the commitment of the agencies to improve budget spending, but it seems that the problem of underspending is deeply rooted to corruption, bureaucracy, lack of monitoring, and the ineffectual procurement process. “

For Suarez, Based on COA reports, “another common impediment to the completion and implementation of government programs is the lack of monitoring and follow up by the agencies. The DOH, for example, was under fire for the chronic inadequacy of health care facilities and equipment despite the exponential increase in its budget for the Health Facilties Enhancement Program from 2007 to 2016. In addition, the lack of skilled health care workers persists which then impairs the delivery of health care to the population. “

Suarez wants more oevrsight over the budget. “It is high time that we push for an active oversight committee to monitor and ensure adherence by the government agencies to their commitment in meeting targets. The Committee should vigorously exercise their oversight functions over the relevant agencies to ensure that the funding they have been entrusted with is spent properly. We have the Attrition Law to help increase productivity and revenue. I strongly urge my fellow public officials to effect real change and abide by your agency’s mandate and provide the prescribed services, without delay and influence of corruption. This is our people’s money; this should be spent for our people’s welfare. We trust that the government agencies will be equal to the task of providing for a better life, and future for our nation. “

During the plenary deliberations on the general principles and provisions of the national budget, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate raised and exposed the following issues:

1.  Rep. Zarate questioned the deviation of the availability of appropriations from a 2-yr to a 1-yr period. According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) the imposition of a 1-yr availability of appropriation is to pressure and discipline agencies to spend their funds efficiently.

Rep. Zarate said that he does not see the logic of such use-it-or-lose-it policy, stating that it would have dire consequences particularly in addressing the housing backlog and the MOOE cutbacks in public hospitals while increasing the drug war budget. Bakit paparusahan ang mga ahensyang dapat magbigay ng batayang serbisyo samantalang tataasan ang hindi makamamayang pondo kagaya ng Oplan Double Barrel.

2.In relation to this,  Rep. Zarate expressed alarm over the possible wastage of P355 billion worth of programs and projects as part of the continuing appropriations for 2016 that if not utilized until December 31,2017, would be reverted to the National Treasury.

3. With regards to savings and realignment, Rep. Zarate quizzed DBM over the possible unconstitutionality of the current proposed policy in realignment,  in particular the provision onRules in the Modification of allotment (Sec. 69 of General Provisions) stating that we are allowing the modification and realignment of all fund classes under a vague standard of “exceptional circumstances”, which is clearly violative of the Congressional power of the purse.  It should be noted that under the law,  it is only savings that could be realigned. Rep. Zarate emphasized that the same justification was cited by the Aquino admin in implementing the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

4.Lastly, Rep. Zarate exposed DBM Sec. Diokno’s questionable adoption of the Aquino admin’s corrupt budget policy which he himself have opposed during the Aquino administration.

Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) on Tuesday slammed the provisions in the P3.7-trillion 2018 national budget for right-of-way (ROW) acquisitions, saying it will be used to sweep poor communities standing in the way of Build, Build, Build (BBB) programs and for hefty compensation to landowners. 

GWP Rep. Emmi de Jesus said the P56.5-billion lump-sum right-of-way funds for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) alone “is a budget for both mass demolition and bonanza for property owners.”

“It is not enough assurance that a portion of right-of-way funds will be used for financial assistance and resettlement of families that will be displaced by BBB projects. What is clear here is that the poor becomes mere collaterals under Duterte’s BBB program. Resettling them will not change this policy thrust,” De Jesus said during the debate on general principles and provisions of the 2018 budget. 

“Meanwhile, the National Housing Authority (NHA) has only P623 million for its resettlement programs which is clearly not enough to cover the 5.7 million housing backlog. And with the eventual rollout of BBB projects such as railway and road networks, homelessness is expected to spike,” she added. 

Fellow Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas inquired how much of the ROW allocation will be used to compensate landowners and property owners, but the sponsor of the DPWH budget was not able to provide a specific breakdown. 

“Malinaw ang karanasan sa SCTEX project, the government paid the Cojuangco-Aquino landgrabbers at least P900 million for the right-of-way, out of taxpayers’ money. I am afraid the government will be dishing out similar bonanzas for rich families while destroying poor communities under the right-of-way modus and the BBB program,” Brosas said. 

The lawmaker was citing the case of the Sublic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) which ran through Hacienda Luisita, the sugar estate in Tarlac owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan. 

“Huge landowners and property owners to be affected by the BBB projects are the primary beneficiaries of the multi-billion ROW allocation in the form of ‘just compensation.’ And it is alarming that the determination of ‘just compensation’ for these rich families can be subject to the assessment of private appraisers under the Right of Way law signed in 2016. Right-of-way is a huge pork for landowners and businesses,” Brosas ended.