Govt should increase social spending during economic crisis, says Briones


Economy
Written by Jonathan L. Mayuga / Corrrespondent
Business Mirror
Friday, 05 December 2008 00:16

THE government should increase social spending, especially for education, health, agriculture and environment to help millions of poor Filipinos survive the economic crisis, civil-society leaders said.

Former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, convenor of Social Watch Philippines, said President Arroyo should focus on immediately implementing budget reforms to prove her political will to help the poor in the face of the global economic crisis and economic slump.

Social Watch Philippines, which initiated the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI), a consortium of 60 non-government organizations globally recognized as one of the best practices in budget advocacy, wants an additional P34-billion allocation for social development as proposed by civil-society members of ABI.

In their alternative budget proposal, the group proposed an additional P34-billion allocation for social development which includes P18 billion for basic education; P537 million for higher education; P3.4 million for health; P9.6 billion for agriculture; and P2.6 billion for environment.

Rene Raya of Action for Economic Reforms explained the additional allocations for basic education will help cover the hiring of additional teachers, teachers’ training; annual x-ray, laboratory tests and medicines for teachers with respiratory diseases; benefits of teachers under Magna Carta; enhancing quality of education; establishment of a national Education for All (EFA) Committee fund; and expansion and coverage of the Alternative Learning System.

Meanwhile, the Youth Against Debt (YAD) said the additional allocation for higher education will help solve the problem of financing for state colleges and universities which has been steadily declining from 85 percent in 2001 to 77 percent in 2005.

Their proposed additional allocation for higher education includes increases in the capital outlay and tuition subsidy to 31 state colleges and universities.

The alternative budget proposal for health will cover the maintenance and equitable distribution of health professionals in the country, rabies control program and purchase of mercury-free thermometers for 66 hospitals under the Department of Health.

“The health sector is amidst a notable depletion of already diminishing supply of human resources with the rising trend of mass exodus of health workers, either as deployed or migrant workers,” said Mercy Fabros of Womanhealth Philippines.

“More than 100,000 nurses already left the country to work abroad,” Fabros lamented.

For additional allocations for agriculture, Hazel Tanchuling of Rice Watch and Action Network explained that more investments in agriculture and fisheries—fertilizer , education and extension, loans, dryers and post- harvest facilities, seeds, management of marine areas, etc.—will have huge impacts on poverty alleviation which is the first goal of poverty alleviation.

Meanwhile, according to Sabyte Lacson of the La Liga Policy Institute, the additional allocations for environment will cover crucial programs on community-based forest management, coastal resource management, solid waste management, land-water-air pollution monitoring intervention, legal fund against environmental violators, human resource development for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, localizing sustainable development (Philippine Agenda 21), and enhancing agency-civil society partnerships on policy and organizational development.

Briones said under the present budget system, budget intended for social development often goes elsewhere because the so-called power of the purse belongs to the Presidency.

“The people lose their power over public funds with the Philippine budget system that is subject to the control and discretion of the President. This includes the special purpose funds [SPF], which account for more than half of the national budget, the unprogrammed funds, reenacted budget, the indiscriminate use of savings and the nonrelease of funds for social development,” Briones said.

ABI is particularly fearful of the agriculture budget. Tanchuling said government’s agriculture programs’ funding comes mainly from the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization (Afma) budget. The Afma budget is classified under the SPF.

“Most of the budget for operations for agriculture are lodged under Afma, which amounts to P41 billion. This means putting the funds for operations for agriculture under the SPF which are very moveable and subject to the abuse of only one person,” Tanchuling said.

ABI is supporting the initiative of Rep. Teofisto Guingona III in pushing for budget reforms.

Guingona will sponsor bills against impoundment of public funds by the Executive, indiscriminate use of savings, abuse of reenacted budgets and SPFs.

The ABI strongly supported Guingona’s proposed bill on Impoundment Control, which seeks to control the exercise of impoundment where the President refuses to spend or delay the release of funds appropriated by Congress.

Aside from pushing for additional budget, the group had been consistently calling for the release of funds for health, education, agriculture and environment.

The ABI health group has been working with the Department of Health to monitor the release and implementation of P100 million for the procurement of autoclaves, which is under the 2008 General Appropriations Act.

The autoclaves will ensure better management of health care waste disposal in Philippine hospitals.

Meanwhile, Raya said ABI fully support Congressman Guingona’s proposal for salary increase for public school teachers.

“We thank Congressman Guingona for passing legislation supporting the proposal of the Alternative Budget Initiative to grant an additional of P17.5 billion for basic education to pay for the unpaid benefits of the teachers and to increase the budget for their training and scholarship programs,” Raya said.

“Many congressmen and senators have come to the realization that it is high time to restore the balance of power in the budget process. It is high time that the power of the purse be restored to the legislature as they are the representatives of the people,” Briones said.

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