Commentary: House OK of 2007 budget -- bloated pork but P1 for MTRCB
By Renee F. De Guzman
San Fernando City, La Union (17 October) -- The House of Representatives swiftly passed last Friday the country's first trillion budget after padding the pork barrel.
President Arroyo commended the Congressmen for their "political will" as she challenged the Senate to "respond to the infrastructure and social services and help propel the nation on the right track with all institutions of governance" by acting speedily on the spending measure."
For the first time in history of the country floor debates took the House only two weeks for a 1,131 pages bill, even as there was no quorum on the last week of the deliberations that Speaker Jose De Venecia had to publicly begged representatives to prioritize the budget.
It also helped that the oppositionists made good their promise not to play obstructionists in tackling the bill.
However, as confirmed by Albay Representative Joey Salceda, Appropriations Committee chairman, the congressmen padded their pork barrel before approving the P1.126-trillion 2007 budget.
A sizable chunk of the budget is allotted as Priority Development Fund (Pork Barrel) for legislators. The congressmen will get P70 million each from P30 million in 2004 and the senators P200 million each from P120 million.
The highest allocation under the approved budget goes to the Department of Education (P139.9 billion). The second and the third largest allocations go to the Department of Public Works and Highways (P73.6 billion) and Local Government (P51.1 billion) respectively.
It makes sense that education gets the highest budget allocation for 2007 to address the country's very poor state educational system and regain national competitiveness. Likewise, the country also has to build the much needed infrastructure to attract investments, stimulate commerce and create jobs. But for health services to get so much less and just a poor eight in the rankings is anti-poor.
The public health care in this country is a critical issue. Most of the government hospitals nationwide lack the basic facilities, medical equipments and supplies. These hospitals of the poor need budget augmentation from the Department of Health as local government units could not well afford to maintain them. A number of government hospitals infact have been closed for lack of budget.
This situation has been aggravated by the exodus of health professionals who seek greener pasture abroad. Unless we offer competitive benefits the problem will remain unabated.
Isn't it a healthy people is a healthy nation? It seems the congressmen don't aim for a healthy Philippines otherwise, they could have padded the budget of the health department instead of their pork barrel and the Ombudsman's office.
The pork barrel has been a source of corruption for many lawmakers and bureaucrats implementing the projects. In reality, it poses more problems than solutions hence, it should even be abolished.
For the past three years the Senate and the House of Representatives have failed to pass proposed appropriations submitted by Malacanang, resulting in government operating on so-called "re-enacted budget."
For 2007 however, the possibility of a re-enacted budget seems remote as it will be election time and the senators definitely would want to avoid a backlash on their inaction which might affect their re-election bid. Also, the appropriations bill contain the bloated pork barrel.
As the Senate tackles therefore, the 2007 budget, we urge the senators to be more sensitive to the health needs of the poor who are mostly the beneficiaries of our country's health services and remove the padded amount from the pork barrel of the legislators and add it instead to the budget of the Department of Health. Also, as MTRCB is not an abolished agency the Senate could do well by allotting them the required budget for the agency to be functional. (PIA La Union) [top]