(STAR) By Jess Diaz and Christina Mendez - The House of Representatives is authorizing President Arroyo to spend an additional P12 billion in calamity funds, with an opposition House member advising her to use more than P23 billion in congressional pork barrel – and even her own special funds – to beef up the budget for rebuilding areas ravaged by “Ondoy,” “Pepeng” and “Frank.”

But at the Senate, a similar initiative failed to take off yesterday after Sen. Benigno Aquino III moved that the matter be subjected to further debates today.

Senate finance committee chairman Edgardo Angara sponsored the Senate measure.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the issue will be first in Senate’s agenda today to allow interpellations from Aquino and Sen. Manuel Roxas II. Aquino is the Liberal Party’s standard-bearer in the 2010 elections while Roxas is his running mate.

“Where will they get the calamity fund?” Aquino asked during an LP event earlier yesterday.

“Let’s look back, the DBM said the calamity fund of P2 billion for this year was depleted. What is clear to me is that there was no calamity before Ondoy,” he said.

The House version is contained in Joint Resolution 48, which congressmen approved on Monday night in place of a special appropriations bill as earlier proposed.

“Damage to agriculture, property and loss of life is beyond what we were prepared to handle. Metro Manila and 25 Luzon provinces were placed in a state of calamity as heavy rains brought by the storm caused the worst flooding seen in the capital in some 20 years,” Angara said in his sponsorship speech.

The President may take the additional money from the so-called “unprogrammed fund” in the 2009 national budget. This is the part of the annual outlay that is not supported by revenues. It can be used only if there are savings.

Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, appropriations committee chairman, said the P12 billion would be sourced from savings and foreign borrowings.

He said they would have preferred approving a special appropriations bill, where the use of the money could be detailed, but National Treasurer Roberto Tan could not certify that actual cash is available for such legislation, as required by the Constitution.

He said Congress needed to appropriate additional calamity money since the P2-billion calamity fund in the 2009 budget “is almost depleted.”

However, on Monday, Tan was reported as saying that funds are actually available for a special law appropriating more calamity funds.

Last Friday, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. told the Cua committee that there was no way finance officials could certify that there was cash in the treasury for the proposed additional calamity budget.

It was Andaya who suggested that in the absence of such certification, and instead of a special appropriations bill, the House could pass a joint resolution asking the President to use the unprogrammed fund.

Joint Resolution 48 allows Mrs. Arroyo and the National Disaster Coordinating Council to spend the money for “relief operations, rehabilitation, reconstruction and other works and services to areas affected by natural calamities.”

This means that the use of the money would not be confined to communities ravaged by “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in Metro Manila, Rizal and Northern Luzon, but would also cover Iloilo and other provinces in Western Visayas that were devastated by typhoon “Frank” more than a year ago.

In fact, it was Iloilo Representatives Arthur Defensor, who is House majority leader, and Ferjenel Biron who suggested that the resolution be couched in general language.

They also recommended that the additional money be increased from P10 billion, as originally proposed, to P12 billion.

During Monday night’s deliberations, Representatives Edno Joson of Nueva Ecija and Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya expressed reservations over the grant of a special authority for the President to use additional calamity funds.

Pork funds for rehab

Meanwhile, Rep. Satur Ocampo of the party-list group Bayan Muna urged Mrs. Arroyo to use the P23-billion congressional pork barrel for relief and rehabilitation in typhoon-ravaged areas.

He said the President should add to that huge amount her own pork barrel allocation.

“President Arroyo has gone on record as saying that she will do her best to help victims of Ondoy and Pepeng. She should now put meat into her words and devote her office’s pork barrel and other discretionary funds towards disaster response,” he said.

“Since lawmakers often justify accepting and utilizing their pork barrel funds as means to implement infrastructure projects in their respective regions, it would be a significant and compassionate gesture if lawmakers would volunteer all their 2010 and 2011 pork towards a national fund for disaster relief and rehabilitation,” he added.

Each member of the House of Representatives gets an annual pork barrel allocation of P70 million, or a total of P18.8 billion for 268 members. Each senator gets P200 million, or P4.8 billion for 24 senators, or a combined total of P23.6 billion.

Though they are counted in the appropriation of such funds, Ocampo and his militant colleagues do not get their share of pork barrel money. In the Senate, only opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson does not touch his annual P200-million allocation.

National treasurer: There's P10 billion for calamity fund By Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) Updated October 13, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The country’s national treasurer has certified that there are unprogrammed funds available that may be tapped for the proposed P10-billion supplemental budget.

National Treasurer Roberto Tan said there was an unexpected P14.4 billion that came from the Department of Energy’s sale of banked gas from the Malampaya field off Palawan to state-run Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC).

“There were proceeds from Malampaya which were unprogrammed. It’s up to Congress to tap that,” Tan said, adding that the Treasury sent its certification to Congress last week.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the legal rule in crafting a supplemental budget is that funds for the purpose must already be collected, as certified by the national treasurer, or these can be raised through a revenue measure.

Lawmakers have been asking the Bureau of Treasury to confirm if there are unprogrammed funds for the P10-billion calamity fund.

Speaker Prospero Nograles has said that tropical storm “Ondoy” and typhoon “Pepeng” have brought “horrific logistical nightmare” for the government.

“We need this supplemental calamity fund if we want to help our people whose lives were destroyed by Ondoy and Pepeng,” Nograles said.

“With or without the supplemental budget, the government will spend for rehabilitation using resources available or authorized under the 2009 budget. The principal source will be the current year’s budget,” Andaya said.

He said the hierarchy of resource mobilization should be funds designated for calamity relief or activities that fall within the mandate of an agency, realigned funds, and supplemental budget.

“Because we will use up the two, the supplemental budget will serve as a reinforcement,” Andaya said.

At the Palace, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said President Arroyo will convene an emergency meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) on Thursday to chart possible actions by lawmakers in the wake of the devastation brought by the recent weather disturbances.

Remonde said the meeting was set “to discuss the causes, costs and action to be taken in the wake of the disaster brought by the two typhoons.

“The President is open to all constructive proposals to effectively address our problems collectively as a nation,” he said.

Remonde said Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Presidential Legislative Liaison Office chief Joaquin Lagonera were tasked to make the arrangements for the meeting.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said she will certify as urgent pending bills on Disaster Risk Reduction in Congress.

Budgets sails smoothly

Meanwhile, the Senate is ready to approve a P12-billion supplemental budget for the relief of the victims and rehabilitation of areas hit by disasters in the country.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the amount was increased from P10 billion to P12 billion because Pepeng also caused much devastation. They said the P10 billion was only for the victims and areas destroyed by tropical storm Ondoy and typhoon “Frank” in 2008.

Angara said the amount was agreed upon with the members of the House of Representatives and would be certified as urgent by President Arroyo.

Sen. Francis Escudero filed a joint resolution yesterday seeking an additional P12 billion to augment the P2-billion calamity fund so the government could help battered communities recover quickly.

Angara said they were expecting the House to transmit to the Senate the joint resolution on the P12-billion supplemental budget yesterday afternoon.

He said he would conduct a hearing this morning and present the proposed measure at the plenary so it would be passed before the congressional break on Wednesday.

Zubiri said there might be a special session on Thursday if the supplemental budget would not be passed.

Earlier, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said that there was no more need for a supplemental budget because the government could get funds from the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Agriculture and the Road User’s Tax to rehabilitate the areas devastated by the typhoons and provide assistance to the victims.

But Zubiri said the funds were important and that it would be a disservice to the people if there would be no specific allocation for the victims.

Once certified as urgent, the measure can be approved up to third and final reading without the three-day rule applied to bills and joint resolutions that have the effect of a law.

Angara said he was not expecting opposition to the measure since the government would need spending authority to tap even unprogrammed funds.

“There is P79-billion unprogrammed funds for the whole of 2009. I think it is intact,” he said.

Angara said Congress does not need to specify how much should go for each area as it would be up to the line agencies to utilize the funds, adding that the budget would only be for emergency relief and rehabilitation and not reconstruction and rebuilding, which would fall under the regular budget.

“That’s why we are going to propose the inclusion of a capital outlay budget when there is none for 2010. Personally, (I would recommend) a minimum of P30 billion. I want to hear DPWH. (The funds will be for) hard infrastructure – roads, public building, drainage, canals, irrigation,” Angara said. – With Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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