Solons divided over budget cuts, set pow-wow

Lawmakers on Friday stressed the need to put up safety nets for rice farmers if the government wants to allow the private sector to import rice as a way of reducing inflation, and warned that budget cuts could hurt the country’s electrification program and imperil the free college tuition law.

House Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said Friday that help for farmers could come by way of projects led by the Department of Agriculture, such as irrigation systems.

He said this would entail allocating more funds to the Agriculture department in the 2019 national budget, after its budget was cut from P61 billion in 2018 to P55.9 billion.

“There are safety nets. There is one school of thought that the projects to help farmers be advanced instead of waiting for them to be funded by income from the duties on rice to be imported,” Andaya said. “There is merit in that proposal…. You do not set up the safety net when the person it is supposed to catch is already falling.”

But Andaya said the DA should also consider its absorptive capacity in implementing the projects to help the farmers.

Andaya said the government should not wait for earnings from rice importers, who must pay a 35- percent tariff under a new bill that would enable private companies to import the grain.

Andaya said the once passed into law, quantitative restrictions on rice imports would be lifted and permit the influx of cheap rice from abroad, hurting local farmers.

Andaya noted that tariffs from rice imports in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam were used to fund mass irrigation, warehouse, and rice research.

Meanwhile, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles warned that the P621.68-million reduction in the budget of the Department of Energy would hurt its electrification program.

During the budget hearing on the DoE’s proposed P2.04-billion budget for 2019, Nograles, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said he is opposed to reducing the budget of the key agencies of government.

These budget reductions will hurt the delivery of services by concerned agencies such as the DoE, Nograles said

The DoE proposed a P621.68 million for 2019 or 23 percent lower than its P2.65-billion allocation for this year.

“It burdens me to see something like the NEA [National Electrification Administration] and the DoE getting very huge cuts, especially for us coming from the provinces,” Nograles said.

If government agencies are not given the budget they need, economic development in the countryside will be unattainable, Nograles said.

Nograles added that President Rodrigo Duterte wants complete electrification of the sitios in Mindanao before his term ends in 2022.

“Isn’t it embarrassing that Mindanao is not getting the support it needs considering that the President is from the island,” Nograles said.

Lawmakers will meet with senators next week to find ways so that the so-called “cash-based” budget system will not jeopardize the second-semester implementation of the free college tuition law.

“The House leadership will talk to the Senate leaders Monday next week to discuss the cash-based budget system,” Nograles said.

Under the proposed cash-based 2019 P3.757-trillion national budget, all payouts are valid within the fiscal year and only three months the following year or until March 2020.

Next year the national government will adopt the cash-budgeting system that calls for the payment of goods and services on the same year that they were acquired.

Nograles said the House has sent emissaries to discuss the matter with the Senate and that he relayed the concern and sentiments of the House.

During Thursday’s budget deliberations on Commission on Higher Education, CHED officer-in-charge, Commissioner Prospero de Vera III admitted that the Commission will have difficulty implementing the free tuition law because the second semester covers until May or June 2020 where the 2019 national appropriations will no longer be in effect under the cash-based budget.

“We will be severely hampered in implementing RA [Republic Act No.] 10931 because the first semester for some universities start in June,” De Vera said.

Nograles echoed De Vera’s concern on how the free tuition law would be hurt by the cash-based system.

“We are very concerned with cash-based budgeting in terms of implementation of the free higher education law which we [House] funded in 2018 with P40 billion and we’re funding in 2019 with P50 billion,” said Nograles.

“Realistically [under] cash-based budgeting, you will only be able to spend from the P50 billion what is billed to you by the SUCs [state universities and colleges] for the first semester. What happens to the second semester and the other half of the P50 billion?” Nograles said.

Topics: rice farmers , inflation , Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. , Department of Agriculture
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