MANILA, OCTOBER 7, 2010 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - The House of Representatives approved the proposed P12.2-billion 2011 budget of the Department of Finance (DOF) in plenary session on Wednesday night.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who defended the DOF budget as vice chairman of the committee on appropriations, said the bulk of the department’s appropriations are allotted to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs.

DOF officials led by Secretary Cesar Purisima were on hand to assist Ungab.

During the debates, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez urged the two bureaus to strengthen their respective campaigns against tax cheats and smugglers.

The House later approved the P976-million budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), which replaced the Office of the Press Secretary.

Secretary Herminio Coloma heads PCOO. He is one of three members of President Aquino’s communications group. The other two members are former broadcaster Ricky Carandang and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

All three are authorized to speak for the President.

The House approved the DOF and PCOO budgets before Visayas congressmen stopped the budget debates in protest over the small portions of Mr. Aquino’s proposed P1.645-trillion 2011 spending program that are allocated to Visayas and Mindanao.

Deputy Speaker for Visayas Pablo Garcia presented a motion to suspend the debates, a move supported by Visayas and Mindanao congressmen.

Speaking for his colleagues, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said they have agreed that they would oppose the resumption of budget debates until budget officials could sufficiently and satisfactorily explain to them the “inequitable” allocations.

“How could there be peace and development in Visayas and Mindanao when our regions continue to get unfair treatment in the allocation of national resources?” he asked.

He said Regions 6, 7 and 8 in the Visayas would get a measly 7.7 percent of next year’s national fund, while the six regions in Mindanao would receive only 10 percent.

Metro Manila will get 3.6 percent, while the rest of Luzon, composed of six regions, is allotted 16.3 percent, he said.

To pacify his colleagues, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. immediately called for Budget Secretary Florencio Abad so he could meet with the grumbling Visayas and Mindanao congressmen.

Evardone said the inequitable fund allocations are reflected in the documents Abad has submitted to the House.

He said in addition to the regional allocations which collectively total P617.2 billion and account for 37.5 percent of the proposed P1.645-trillion 2011 budget, there are lump sums amounting to P506.7 billion and P521 billion labeled as “nationwide” and “central office” and which represent 30.8 percent and 31.7 percent, respectively, of the budget proposal.

“These are huge amounts controlled solely by agency heads. We want to know their details,” he said.

Former budget secretary and now Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. told reporters that he sympathized with his Visayas and Mindanao colleagues.

“We have many new members, who should be given sufficient explanation on the regional and national allocations. They should also be informed of the government’s overall strategy so they would understand why there are more funds for certain areas and services,” he said.

He said the confusion arises from lack of information as well as lack of understanding on how budgeting works.

“The lump-sum appropriations labeled ‘central office’ and ‘nationwide’ will not be monopolized by agency heads. They will trickle down to the regions in terms of projects,” he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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