HOUSE appropriations committee chairman and Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said the proposed P3.767-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2018 was ratified Tuesday night for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature before Christmas.
Meanwhile, President Duterte was set to sign his administration’s ambitious tax reform plan and the 2018 national budget as lawmakers finalized conflicting provisions in the tax-reform bill before Congress goes into a break this week, a senior Cabinet official said.
“The signing of TRAIN has been set on the 19th, together with the 2018 budget,” Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said in a text message to reporters.
The Senate and the House have until Dec. 13 to pass the tax-reform bill and submit it to Malacañang for President Duterte’s signature.
The target implementation of TRAIN and the new 2018 budget is on Jan. 1, 2018.
The ratification of the proposed GAA followed two weeks of deliberations by congressmen and senators who sought to harmonize the differing provisions of their respective versions of the proposed national budget for next year.
Duterte is expected to sign into law the 2018 GAA on or before Dec. 19.
”President Rodrigo Duterte can proudly affix his signature to this measure on Dec. 19 following its ratification,” Nograles said, referring to their self-imposed deadline for the signing of the 2018 national budget.
He said among the bells and whistles of the measure were the billions worth of benefits lined up for the education sector.
These are the provision of an additional P1,000 cash allowance for public school teachers from the current P2,500 to P3,500 (budget allocation: P770 million); the increase of at least P10 million each for all State Universities and Colleges across-the-board for capital outlays to be used in the repair, rehabilitation, constructions of academic buildings and the purchase of equipment, among others (P3.7 billion); and the rollout of the free college education program under Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (P40 billion) to cover the free tuition and miscellaneous fees for college students in all State Colleges and Universities nationwide.
“There is no stopping free college education in the country. This is truly a legacy-defining measure for the Duterte administration, and its implementation was made possible through the 2018 national budget,” Nograles said.
The 2018 budget will also ensure the implementation of free Wi-Fi for all SUCs amounting to P327 million.
Meanwhile, the House and the Senate have set aside an additional P62 billion for the increase of military and uniformed personnel’s base pay beginning Jan. 1, 2018. House Joint Resolution 18, which bears this effect, was approved on 3rd and final reading on Monday, Dec. 11.
“This will double the basic pay of both the Police Officer 1 and Private from P14,834 per month to P29,668 per month. The funding requirement for this is already included in the 2018 General Appropriations Bill,” Nograles said.
For the other ranks, the raise in base pay will be calibrated resulting in an average increase of 58.70 percent, he said.
Also provided for in the Bicam-approved General Appropriations Bill is the purchase of body cameras for Philippine National Police members amounting to P334 million (up from the initial allocation of P100 million); acquisition of two single-engine helicopters with a funding of P451 million; housing for PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines members worth P952 million (up from the realigned P900 million OPLAN Double Barrel fund); and the increase of police stations’ funds by adding P850 million to their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses.
Nograles earlier said the planned acquisition of body cameras, which had been personally sought by the President, was part of the government’s effort to ensure the observance of standard operating procedures and the rules of engagement during anti-crime operations.
“The Chief Executive recognizes this need amid the ongoing wars against illegal drugs and other forms of criminality. President Duterte knows how to take and respond to constructive criticism,” the Appropriations Committee chairman said.
The budget bill also provides for the P3.5-billion subsidization under the PhilHealth budget for the cost of healthcare benefits of government employees in the executive branch.
“This will cover health care for preventive and curative, in-patient and out-patient services for employees in the executive branch. The health benefits shall be provided to our government employees through PhilHealth-registered healthcare providers,” Nograles said. Maricel V. Cruz and John Paolo Bencito