Senate, House discuss disagreements in proposed 2018 budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 30) — The bicameral conference committee met on Thursday to reconcile the versions of the Senate and House of the proposed 2018 General Appropriations Bill.

Among the items on their agenda — the P50-billion cut in the Public Works department's project.

Senator Panfilo Lacson proposed the cut in the Senate. He explained that some civil works projects may not be carried out because of right of way (ROW) issues. It was approved and included in the final Senate version.

"'Di ba ang daming, ang lalaki ng underspending? Ang main culprit dun yung unresolved ROWs na pinondohan na kaagad natin yung civil works and yet hindi pa nareresovle yung issue ng right of way," he said.

The P50 billion was supposed to fund roads, bridges, and flood control projects nationwide.

Lacson said the amount was realigned to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Social Welfare department's feeding program, chalk allowance for teachers, and the national ID system. However, it did not sit well with Senator Cynthia Villar and their fellow senators.

Villar said the P50-billion cut is not justified. She admitted the budget cut proposal will affect a road project in Las Piñas — the city where she once served as a representative.

"I-discuss ulit kung sino talaga ang may row problem at kung sino ang wala kasi wala naman kami problem, bakit tatanggalin ang project namin?" she said.

Congressmen were surprised at the big Public Works budget cut. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Karlo Nograles said the budget cut is alarming.

"Ang balita sa akin, some of these projects are projects that are continuing projects. Kung continuing projects yan, ibig sbihin na hindi na natin ipagpatuloy ang proyekto na iyon at hayaan na natin nakatiwangwang ang project?" he said.

Lacson said he is willing to restore the fund as long as the Public Works department is able to justify that the projects do not have right of way issues.

"Maraming resistance. Ang dami ngang kumakausap na tinamaan yung mga projects nila. Sabi ko hindi ko naman alam na projects niyo yun, malay ko ba, eh alam ko naman wala na talagang pork (barrel)," he said.

Meanwhile, Nograles said the House panel will still study whether or not they will realign the P900-million budget for the police's Oplan Double Barrel and the P500-million budget for the Interior department's community-based anti-illegal drugs and anti-criminality program, for a total of P1.4 billion.

The Senate realigned this amount for housing projects for the police and the military after President Rodrigo Duterte ended the Philippine National Police's role in the drug war.

The bicameral conference committee hopes to come up with a final version of the proposed P3.7 trillion 2018 budget soon for ratification by the Senate and House before Congress adjourns on December 13.