MANILA, OCTOBER 18, 2010 (MALAYA) HOUSE minority leader Edcel Lagman yesterday said Malacañang is arrogating unto itself Congress’ power of the purse when it allegedly forced the passage of the P21-billion conditional cash transfer program (CCT) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development under the P1.645-trillion proposed budget for 2011.

"The repeated intransigent demands of President Aquino of having the CCT appropriation approved intact reveal a motive to preserve a partisan war chest even as he derogates the constitutional power of the Congress to independently appropriate public funds," he said.

The House approved the proposed General Appropriations Act on second reading early Saturday despite moves by the minority to reduce the allegedly bloated CCT budget.

President Aquino’s allies terminated the period of interpellation and debate on the proposed DSWD which was the last remaining agency for consideration by the plenary.

The majority also rejected Lagman’s proposal to cut the CCT funding to P15 billion, and instead adopted the original proposed budget of P34.3-billion budget for 2011.

Lagman said the proposed reduced amount is the reasonable and adequate funding for the DSWD to service a projected 1.5 million household beneficiaries or an increase of 500,000 grantees from the current level, "instead of the overly ambitious proposed beneficiaries of 2.3 million households or an increase of 1.3 million family-beneficiaries which is beyond the absorptive capacity of the DSWD."

Of the proposed DSWD allocation, P29.2 billion will be for the implementation of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) which will provide conditional cash grants to extremely poor households.

Of the P29.2 billion, P21.2 billion will go directly to conditional cash transfers or grants aimed at helping 2.3 million extremely poor households by the end of 2011. The remaining P8 billion will cover food programs such as food-for-work and rice subsidies.

The DSWD will implement the cash transfer program for some 582,000 poorest families through a $400-million loan from the Asian Development Bank, which will be spread out over five years.

The welfare program can be availed only if the families will comply with the government’s requirements, like keeping their children in school and undergoing medical check-ups.

But Malacañang said it is "pleased" that the House of Representatives approved President Aquino’s proposed P1.645-trillion 2011 budget, with the P21-billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) fund intact.

Abigail Valete, deputy presidential spokeswoman, said the much-criticized lump sum appropriations will be used properly and there are mechanisms to ensure that the money will go to where it is allocated.

The House passed the 2011 budget bill on second reading early Saturday morning after a 17-hour marathon session, with only House minority leader Edcel Lagman objecting.

Aquino, in his budget message, told members of Congress that the 2011 General Appropriations Bill showed his strong commitment to fight poverty.

Aside from the P21-billion CCT fund which was included in the P34-billion budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the budget bill also contained more pork barrel for lawmakers.

It also contained a controversial P400 million allocation for contraceptives under the health department’s family planning program.

The 10 departments with the highest budgets for 2011 are: education (including the educational facilities fund), P207.3 billion; public works, P110.6 billion; defense (including pension and AFP modernization program), P104.7 billion; interior (including pensions), P88.2 billion; agriculture, P37.7 billion; social welfare, P34.3 billion; health, P33.3 billion; transportation, P32.3 billion; agrarian reform, P16.7 billion; and judiciary, P14.3 billion. – Wendell Vigilia and Regina Bengco

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved