Diokno on ₱927M CHR budget cut: 'That's natural'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno denied allegations that the budget of Commission on Human Rights was cut by ₱1 billion.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' senior anchor Pinky Webb in The Source on Friday, Diokno said the Budget Department has in fact given the Commission "a consistent increase" since 2015.

"If my recollection is correct, we increased the budget of CHR by 7 percent from 2016 to 2017," Diokno said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson previously raised the concern on the budget approved for CHR, amid President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

"Ang laki ng cut. They proposed a budget of 1.4 billion plus and ang pinasok lang is 496. So 927 million 'yung cinut and it's unfair to them considering that they will have their hands full because of the war on drugs," Lacson said in an interview.

[Translation: The cut was huge. They proposed more than 1.4 billion but only 496 (million) was approved.  So 927 (million) was cut, and it's unfair to them considering they will have their hands full because of the war on drugs.]

Also read: Senate vows to scrutinize 2017 budget thoroughly

Diokno said it's not true that they reduced the budget on an annual basis.

"What Senator Ping is saying is that we reduced the budget as requested by the agency, but that's natural. All the agencies request for a higher budget than what we gave them here," said Diokno.

Diokno added, it was not only CHR whose budget was reduced - but almost all government agencies.

"Usually agencies ask for the moon. So, but we have to trim it down. All the agencies we have to trim down. If you give them what they want, the budget will be three times bigger than what it should be," the Budget Chief said.

Diokno admitted, however, that the Budget Department has allocated ₱2.5 billion to support the President's war against drugs and criminality.

"Well, you have agency budgets for PNP, you have AFP… PDEA, right? And of course, under the Office of the President, there is a fund, as far as I can remember, 500 million for against crimes, organized crimes," Diokno said.

According to Diokno, they also had to beef up the intelligence funds.

"Now President Duterte asked for an increase - it's confidential fund of one billion. Another one billion for, for Intelligence fund. So I added that, those two items… Plus the 500, so 2.5 billion."

2017 budget: PDAF and DAP-free

As one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court against Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) during the previous administration, Diokno said he made sure that the 2017 is free from DAP and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

"I can assure you that I want to make sure that this budget and future budgets will be totally compliant with the Supreme Court decision on PDAF and DAP."

Diokno pointed out, lawmakers are not even entitled to post-budget approval process.

"They're supposed to, if they want to help their constituencies, they got to talk to the secretaries and recommend projects."

Diokno said, if the budget a legislator is asking for is already approved — it's fine. "That's consistent with the Supreme Court decision," said Diokno.

But in cases of post-budget approval, legislators have to ask for budget from Department secretaries for their intended projects.

"They will go to the agency or the department and give their projects, submit their projects, and it's up to the agency to approve," Diokno added.

But he made it clear, that there's no assurance that projects applied for will be approved.

"They also have their prioritization process. So if it's not acceptable, then you choose another project or whatever. So it depends on the preference of legislators. Some legislators don't want to talk to the secretary. For example, a senator. He can get away with not having any projects because he has no specific constituency, right? he can talk about national issues and get known for that," Diokno said.

Increasing revenue, reducing taxes

The Budget Chief is convinced that it's possible to increase tax collection despite the administration's plans to reduce income tax from 32 percent to 25 percent, and decrease corporate income tax from 30 percent to 25 percent.

"Of course, to show to the entire world that we're not fiscally irresponsible, higher spending will be accompanied by better collection, plus, and we're submitting a tax reform package," said Diokno.

According to Diokno, "if we're lucky," the tax reform package will be signed by the President before the end of the year until mid next year at the latest.

"It will take effect maybe for incomes in 2017. So when you file your income tax in 2018, it's different," Diokno said.

The ₱3.35 trillion budget, according to Diokno, prioritizes education, public works, interior and local government, defense, and health.

With ₱567 billion, Department of Education gets the biggest slice in the pie. Diokno said it will be used to build at least 37,000 school buildings and rehabilitate 10,000 more school buildings.

Also read: DepEd chief: More science, math teachers needed

The 'golden age of public infrastructure'

Diokno said, the Duterte administration would be remembered as the "golden age of public infrastructure,"

"We will spend something like 800 billion for public infrastructure. That's about 5.4% of GDP and ramping up to about 7.2% by 2022 and so I estimate will be something like 3.2 billion for public, public infrastructure. So that's why I called golden age," Diokno said.

To put it simply, Diokno said the public will see a lot of construction of roads, bridges, airports, and seaports all over the country.

"Like some regions in the Visayas that are not linked in the moment. The Mindanao will be, willl be closely linked because of that logistics network. We, we might even consider railway system in Mindanao," Diokno said.

"Even Palawan, there a 600 kilometers stretch there thats needs to be I think it has to be expanded and all."

Diokno added, he sees about ₱8.2 trillion being spent by the Duterte administration for infrastructure projects alone.

Also read: Health department to construct more rehab centers