SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
House members today tackled important socio-economic issues and what the House of Representatives has been doing to address them, particularly: funding of the free tertiary education; regulation of Uber, Grab and other transportation network companies (TNCs) and transportation network vehicle services (TNVS); and the misperception about government rightsizing.
Committee on appropriations chairman Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles (1st District, Davao City), committee on transportation chairman Rep. Cesar Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes), and committee on government reorganization vice chairman Rep. Virgilio Lacson (Party-list, Manila Teachers) and member Rep. Ron Salo (Party-list, Kabayan) addressed the issues during the bi-monthly press briefing arranged by the Office of the Speaker and the Press and Public Affairs Bureau (PPAB).
Nograles said funding for the implementation of Republic Act 10931, which grants free tuition and other fees for students in state universities and college (SUCs), as well as local universities and colleges and technical-vocational institutions, may come from the underspent, unused and underutilized budgets of agencies.
He said it will be easy for the appropriations committee to check during the hearings on the proposed 2018 national budget how much was obligated to the agencies and how much they have actually spent for their projects and programs, and operations.
“So malalaman namin kung sino yung mga departments or agencies na underspent or under-utilized or unutilized ang kanilang mga pondo. So ito ang magiging basis namin para tingnan kung kinakailangan ba na i-cut natin ang budget for 2018 nila based dun sa kanilang performance and based on dun sa kanilang spending pattern. So yun ang magiging basis natin to find out how we will be able to first and foremost support yung free higher education na bago lamang pinirmahan ni President Duterte,” said Nograles.
Nograles also belied the statement of Senator Panfilo Lacson that the proposed 2018 budget and the current General Appropriations Act (GAA) contain pork.
“Alam mo, walang pork sa budget book na ito. Kasi kung may pork, immediately it will be brought to the Supreme Court’s attention and immediately, the Supreme Court will strike it down. Napaka-klaro po sa Supreme Court decision kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng pork at ipinagbabawal na po ang pork. So wala po tayong pork na igi-give up dito sa budget because lahat po ng mga items ng budget…lahat po ng mga pera na nakalaan sa budget naka-itemized po yan. Naka breakdown na po yan per item, per project, per program of government, it’s already broken down and itemized,”said Nograles.
He said during the last budget season, the senator also claimed the same thing but again, there is actually no pork allocation under the 2017 GAA.
So yung sinasabi na pork ni Senator Lacson wala po yan dito sa ating budget, tulad nga po ng nangyari nung last budget season natin last year kung saan, ganun din ang sinasabi nya pero ganun pa man, na-approved naman ng House pati ng Senado ang budget for 2017, wala naman tayong pork dyan. The same thing, sa 2018 wala pa rin pong pork ditto,”said Nograles.
In the previous budget books, he said there was a particular chapter titled Priority Development Assistance Fund, but nowadays after the Supreme Court made a decision, such chapter no longer existed in the budget proposals of 2017 and 2018.
“Ngayon po after the Supreme Court decision wala na po iyong page na iyan or chapter na Priority Development Assistance Fund. Wala ka na rin makikitang lump sum diyan kung saan ang mga kongresista e mag-a-identify ng post enactment. So hindi po talaga namin maunawaan kung ano iyong sinasabi ni Senator Lacson kung saan ang pork diyan. Lahat ng mga budgets po ay maka-distribute per province, per region, per city, siguro meron din tayong makikitang per district. Kung iyan naman ang sinasabi niya ay iyan naman po ay properly identified and accounted for at ini-implement iyan at iyan lahat nakikita per department and per agency of government broken down into the regions and the provinces na makakabenipisyo sa mga programa at proyekto ng ating gobyerno,” said Nograles.
As representatives of the people in the various districts, he said what they work on is ensuring that all areas they represent equally benefit from the budget. “”Sa budget taon-taon tinitingnan po natin iyan na hindi naman nalulugi sa distribution of projects and programs ang amin pong mga distrito, probinsiya, siyudad, munisipyo and all of that. But there is no pork because all of that is identified, all that is itemized dito po sa budget na ito,”said Nograles.
He hope that by August 24, the discussions on the 2018 budget will be finished so that the committee can approve it and thereafter refer it to the plenary for discussions.
Meanwhile, Lacson and Salo allayed fears that the congressional proposal to rightsize the government will result in retrenchment of government employees.
“Hindi po ito dun sa konsepto ng marami na iniisip po nila siguro ngayon dahil dito sa batas na ito mawawalan po sila ng trabaho, matatanggal, mara-rationalize, at magdi-decrease. Ang sinasabi po ng rightsizing kung ano po yung nararapat na organisasyon at staffing pattern para dun sa organisasyon na yun, yun po ang dapat na gawin ng executive department,”said Salo.
The proposal does not include the biggest government employer, the Department of Education (DepEd), and likewise the Department of Health (DOH) and the local government units (LGUs), The Judiciary, and Congress but they are given the opportunity to join the rightsizing program, he said. He also clarified not being included in the program right now does not mean being exempted from it.
Salo said about 250,000 government workers from the Executive may be affected by the rightsizing program . “Maaaring 10 percent siguro diyan ang maapektuhan pero maaaring madagdagan din po ‘yan ng 10 percent. Meron pong kine-create po dito na tinatawag po na Executive Committee on Rightsizing. So sila po yung nag-aaral sa kasalukuyan kung ano yung mga ahensya na pwedeng maapektuhan,”he said.
“The moment they are given that opportunity, kung i-adopt po nila, gagamitin po nila dapat kung ano yung standards na nakapaloob po dito sa batas. Same thing yung pagtrato po natin sa kanila, sa legislature, at the same time the judiciary.,” he said.
Lacson said among the key provisions of the rightsizing proposal embodied in House Bill 5707 are: Grant authority to the President to regularize the executive branch; provide an optional adoption by the legislature, judiciary, Constitutional Commission, Office of the Ombudsman and (LGUs) of the rightsizing program; establish the Committee on Rightsizing the Executive Branch which will be tasked to oversee the implementation of the rightsizing program, provide the retirement benefit and separation incentive for personnel who might be affected by the program, and provide a three-year timeline to implement the rightsizing program.
“I just like to be clear that the rightsizing program is not a program to downsize the government or might result in retrenchment or reduction, or removal of employees but it can also create agencies or increase the number of employees for the priorities of this government,” said Lacson.
Lastly, on the issue regarding TNCs and TNVS, Sarmiento said the government still needs to regulate them to ensure the road worthiness of the vehicles, the qualifications of the drivers, the reasonability of the price, the protection of the passengers in case of accidents, the payment of right fees and taxes and the correct number of TNCs and TNVS.
All of this must be ensured in the context of solving the overall traffic crisis and considering the interest of all Filipino commuters, not just the TNCs-TNVs users, he said.
Sarmiento said the committee on transportation created a technical working group to consolidate all bills seeking to regulate TNCs and TNVS, which serve around three percent of the total commuters in Metro Manila. / RBB