House willing to pass P50B supplemental fund

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    BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA

    HOUSE majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez yesterday said the chamber is willing to increase to P50 billion a proposed P30-billion supplemental budget for the relief and rehabilitation of communities affected by the activities of Taal Volcano in Batangas.

    “If need be, the House leadership is even willing to increase the amount of the supplemental budget to as much as P50 billion for the sake of our ‘kababayans’ there,” he said.
    But Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate accounts committee, said the Senate would first conduct an accounting of how much calamity funds the national government and local government units have to determine if the P30 billion supplemental budget mentioned by President Duterte on Monday night is enough.

    “There is no saying that I am not supporting the expeditious passage of the budget measure. I’m only saying that we have to find out if P30 billion is a bit more or even not sufficient to help the LGUs (local government units) affected by the Taal volcano eruption,” Lacson said in a statement.

    Lacson said under RA 10121 or the Philippine Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, LGUs are mandated to allocate 5 percent of their regular sources of income, including their internal revenue allotment, for their local disaster risk reduction management fund (LDRRMF).

    If the allotted LDRRMF is unspent because there are no calamities, the cumulative amount is kept in a special fund which can be immediately used in times of calamities like the eruption of Taal Volcano, Lacson said.

    In the case of Batangas, he said, the province has allocated P183 million in its 2019 annual budget for its provincial disaster risk reduction management fund “although it appears that 70 percent has been allocated for overhead expenses like MOOE (monthly operating and other expenses) etc. and only P55 million was for calamity.”

    “Counting five years backwards from January 2020 when Taal erupted, I can imagine they may still have sufficient funds. That, and to be augmented by the national government, should all be taken into account when we deliberate on the P30-bilion supplemental budget being pushed by the President,” he added.

    President Duterte, during his visit to Batangas last Monday, said Congress may consider approving a P30-billion supplemental budget for relief and eventual rehabilitation of areas affected by the steam and ash eruptions.

    At the House, Romualdez and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano vowed to the highest priority to President Duterte’s request for Congress to fast-track the approval of the P30-billion supplemental budget.

    Romualdez said the House is committed to provide families displaced by the explosion of Taal Volcano long-term solutions to their plight.

    Cayetano said the House of Representatives is committed to work with the Department of Budget and Management to pass the proposed supplemental budget.

    The House of Representatives is scheduled to hold its plenary session today in Batangas City.

    Initial estimates from the National Economic Development Authority indicate that the economic losses as a result of the Taal’s activities have reached P7.63 billion.

    Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House committee on ways and means, filed House Bill No. 5977 creating the Taal Commission to be the primary agency of the national government for the “relief, resettlement, rehabilitation and livelihood services, for strategic advanced comprehensive integrated reconstruction of Taal eruption-vulnerable areas.”

    Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Congress was mistaken when it slashed the calamity fund in the 2020 General Appropriations Act.

    “This will be a lesson now doon sa prioritization ng ating budget. Tinapyasan natin ang calamity fund sa 2020 (This will be a less on the prioritization of our budget),” he told reporters.

    Salceda said the calamity fund was reduced by P4 billion from the proposed P20 billion because there was still an amount for the purpose remaining from last year.

    He said that around P7 billion to P11 billion still remain from the 2019 calamity funds on top of this year’s P16 billion.

    “So, we still have between P23 to P27 billion,” Salceda said.