House donates P10K from solons' salaries for quake victims
Considers proposals to augment calamity fund
MANILA - The House of Representatives has adopted resolution 413 authorizing a one-time donation of P10,000 from the salaries of congressmen for the victims of the October 15 earthquake.
The resolution was adopted in plenary and will mandate a one-time deduction of the amount.
House Speaker Sonny Belmonte said “we also filed a resolution for everybody to contribute P10,000. It's been filed, I think it will be approved, I’m not gonna wait till everybody has deducted P10,000, kung may substantial, papaadvance na."
However, proposals to augment the calamity funds to respond to the needs of the victims of the quake are still up in the air.
Belmonte revealed that Senate finance committee chair Francis Escudero initially wanted to file a joint resolution authorizing the President to augment the calamity funds from savings, a proposal which Belmonte objected.
A joint resolution, if adopted by both houses, takes the effect of law.
“Sabi ko sa kaniya, I object to that wording 'authorizing'...it means walang powers [ang President]. I’ve always maintained may power ang President to augment existing items," he said.
The compromise, he said, was a joint resolution that said “urging/authorizing the President” to augment from savings but that remains up in the air. “Mukhang di magkakatuluyan sa Senate, there are 2 versions there, they haven’t voted."
Belmonte, for his part, is now drafting a resolution for the House to urge the President to augment from savings the calamity fund and to use it not just for bBohol and Cebu but also for Zamboanga.
“Hindi na joint resolution. Iba na wording nila. I still don’t know whose version will prevail," he said.
Pointed out that that resolution will just express the sense of the House, Belmonte said, “tama, I agree with you, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think we needed a law."
Belmonte said he considered realigning the savings of the House to the calamity fund since heads of departments are authorized by the Constitution and the budget laws to realign savings.
However, upon study, he believes he cannot realign the House’s savings to the calamity fund since he can only realign to items within his own department.
“Yes, you can reallocate money or use savings but that item must be in the budget of your department. It occurred to me, I couldn’t do it. Gusto ko magbigay agad, e I couldn't do it. It’s not a budget in the item of the House," he said.
Belmonte is wary of Senate President Franklin Drilon’s earlier proposal to realign the unutilized Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as savings after these were suspended by the President and restrained by the Supreme Court.
"How could you actually be reallocating or spending money that is the subject of a TRO?"
Asked then what’s the value of these resolutions, Belmonte candidly said, “kuwan, gusto lang naming pumapel din. Kami nagbigay ng sariling pera. Gusto rin masabi we're in favor of it."
House Minority leader Ronaldo Zamora, however, wants a supplemental budget.
"We thought the better solution, rather than the Senate solution, is to propose a supplemental budget not just for Central Visayas but also Zamboanga. These are large amounts, I don’t think giving up PDAF will be enough considering the large amounts needed. Tingin namin, you'll need at least P6-8 billion. We're going to propose a supplemental budget, we will provide appropriations. Hindi pa namin sinasabi kay Speaker Belmonte. Mahirap rin to vote against something with a purpose like that," he said.
After passing the 2014 budget on 3rd reading, the House adjourned sessions till November 18. The plenary, however, authorized the committees to conduct hearings during the break.
Earlier, the House independent minority bloc said it wants the creation of a Visayas Earthquake Assistance and Development Commission for the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction of earthquake affected areas in Bohol and Cebu.
Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said the bill, which was initiated by the bloc in coordination with Bohol Representatives Arthur Yap, Aries Aumentado, Rene Relampagos, and Cebu City Congressman Raul Del Mar, appropriates P25 billion for the aid, relief, rehabilitation and livelihood services, as well as infrastructure and housing programs for the victims of the Oct. 15 earthquake that devastated Bohol and Cebu.
The bill provides that "In the construction or repair and reconstruction of government infrastructure and facilities, priority shall be given to homesites, townsites, river systems and drainage works, roads, bridges, communication and power lines, hospitals, school buildings, irrigation,water systems, and other similar projects."
The P25 billion shall come from funds in the National Treasury which have not been previously appropriated for other purposes and will be released in three tranches until 2015.
The Commission will be composed of nine (9) members: six (6) coming from the public sector, namely, the Secretaries of Public Works and Highways, Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, the General manager of National Housing Authority, and the Commissioner of the National Commission of Culture and Arts, and three (3) from the private sector to be appointed by the President who shall serve for six (6) years unless sooner removed for cause. The President shall designate from among the members of the Cabinet to be the Chairman of the said Commission.
The Commission shall submit to the President and to Congress a detailed quarterly report on the funds allocated indicating the amount released, obligated and disbursed.
In connection with this bill, the bloc will also file a resolution urging the President to certify this as urgent. Sec. 26 Art. 6 paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution gives the President the power to certify the bill as urgent to dispense the parliamentary procedure in cases of necessity to meet a public emergency or calamity.
Romualdez said, “we hope that the House leadership as well as our colleagues will set aside our partisan politics and support this measure.”
REALIGN FUNDS TO CALAMITY VICTIMS
Aside from the commission, the bloc also supports the realignment of funds to calamity victims from existing appropriations. This after Senate President Franklin Drilon proposed a resolution seeking to realign the suspended Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to augment the nearly depleted calamity funds.
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza backed the resolution. “I support it but before that, there has to be clearing of the picture altogether. Walang calamity fund, kung wala naman, may paraan para dagdagan. May proposal to transfer the PDAF or pork barrel, let it pass through both Houses.”
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz wants a separate supplemental budget instead of merely realigning to DAP. “I don’t know about the Senate. In the case of the House, the allocation for members of Congress was provided for in terms of menu. They submitted this long before the [SC] TRO was issued. We cannot just go back and say, sandali lang na kayo na pinangakuan namin ito naka-TRO ito, wala kami mabibigay kasi ang iniisip ngayon, bibigay sa Bohol. May problema members of Congress....Let’s not make use of calamity to grandstand, there's a way. The President can certify a supplemental budget for disaster areas. Not just for Bohol, Cebu, Santi victims but also for Zamboanga. But first, how much is estimated requirement. First, they have to declare now. They have an idea where the savings will come from. [Budget] Secretary [Butch] Abad is saying they're looking at P7-8 billion. They know a lot of unused appropriations. They shouldn’t direct it to DAP. Under question nga. Lagay na sa disaster relief, at least for the 2013 requirement.”
Dela Cruz added “di kinuwestyon ang paggamit ng savings but yung paggawa ng sariling budget, yung DAP. The use of savings, in this particular instance, we have to do something for purposes of disaster victims and areas. Urgent yun. You cannot...they have to say eto talaga yung savings. Magsupplemental budget tayo.”
The DAP’s constitutionality is being assailed by critics in a petition before the high court. Last week, Malacanan said they will fund rehabilitation efforts from realigned savings in the DAP, which critics have said is another form of pork barrel.