GMA gets back at Dinky, holds up OK of DSWD budget
By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated October 14, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (65)
MANILA, Philippines - It’s payback time.
Former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo played out her role as opposition leader in grilling administration officials over their budget proposal.
Arroyo’s constant badgering over the proposed P34.3-billion budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) apparently delayed the approval of the budget during plenary session that lasted until midnight.
For the first time since she was elected congresswoman, Arroyo took the floor during plenary deliberations and questioned the capacity of the DSWD to implement the Aquino administration’s P21-billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
Arroyo noted the program ate up chunks of budgetary allocations that were intended for other agencies.
Her questioning of the DSWD budget lasted for three hours as she grilled Guimaras Rep. Rahman Nava who defended the agency’s budget with Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.
Arroyo, who pioneered the CCT program in the country, was supposed to be the 30th lawmaker to interpellate Nava but was allowed to raise her issues on the floor after four congressmen finished their interpellations.
Soliman and Nava repeatedly sought the suspension of the deliberations as they sought to answer Arroyo’s questions.
Soliman was Arroyo’s social welfare secretary until she resigned and joined the Hyatt 10 group of former Cabinet members who called on their boss to quit in 2005.
Earlier in the day, a resolution signed by some 52 lawmakers circulated in the House calling on Malacañang to reduce the P21-billion CCT budget and realign the proceeds to other agencies that suffered hefty cuts or were given no budgets at all.
Under the CCT program of the Arroyo administration, cash transfers were paid by the DSWD through the Land Bank of the Philippines, amounting to P500 a month per household and P300 a month per child for 10 months a year, with a maximum of P1,400 per month.
Arroyo pointed out that out of the P21-billion funding, only P17 billion would go to the supposed target beneficiaries as P1 billion would be spent for training of DSWD personnel to implement the CCT and another P3 billion as operational costs.
Arroyo said it was obvious that the DSWD could not be able to service its target beneficiaries of 2.3 million poor households next year.
Arroyo also asked Nava for a breakdown of expenses of the P1 billion to be used for the training of 1,891 DSWD personnel as well as the qualifications of those to be hired by the agency to implement the program.
Arroyo noted that many of the poor households that are supposed to be the intended beneficiaries have pregnant women and they should be given pre-natal services.
“We don’t have enough birthing units (in poor areas),” Arroyo said.
“Even if they go to pre-natal advisers, how will they follow the advice if there are no birthing units? Isn’t it better, wiser to put the money in birthing units where we see the need very glaringly rather than in a big scale of CCT where we do not know how it will be implemented,” she said.
Arroyo explained her administration implemented the CCT gradually by taking into account the absorptive capacity of the DSWD as well as other agencies like the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health (DOH) that are part of the program. “With the already inadequate budget of the Department of Education and Department of Health, they will surely be unable to make the facilities needed to comply with the conditionality of the cash transfer.
“For instance, if 1.3 million families will be enrolled (into the CCT), how many new school attendees will there be? If there are four children per family... this means that by giving conditional cash transfer to 1.3 million families, we will encourage an additional 650,000 children to go to school. This would mean approximately 14,500 new classrooms,” Arroyo said.
She said the seeming “unpreparedness in the organization in the support facilities of DepEd and DOH” has all but “doomed (the CCT program) to fail right at the onset.”
Nava defended the DSWD in saying the agency was in close coordination with the DepEd for the availability of classrooms.
Arroyo then asked whether the influx of pupils was taken into account in crafting the DepEd’s budget.
When the DepEd’s budget was consulted, Arroyo noted there was an allocation of P12 billion for “basic education facilities,” which she said could mean anything.
“There’s no line item for construction of schools... this is a very strange way to present a budget,” Arroyo said.
She added that it would take time for classrooms or health facilities to be built.
Arroyo also said the trainings could take over a year to complete so it was not clear how the DSWD could implement the CCT program and disburse the budget next year.
She said the system “is not prepared to absorb the volume of additional beneficiaries in just one year.”
Arroyo said the huge outlay came at the expense of the budgets of the judiciary, state colleges and universities, farm-to-market roads, as well as allocations for Visayas and Mindanao.
Nava admitted the CCT program would also be funded by foreign loans.
“I’m not against the increasing the number of beneficiaries but a sudden and massive increase by more than double its previous amount seems both ambitious and untimely,” Arroyo said.
“It would be irresponsible to allocate a budget for the program that is not yet fully prepared and the details may look very nice on paper, but I’ve been there Mr. Speaker, the implementation is certainly not that simple,” Arroyo told her colleagues during the plenary debates. ]
Reposted From Paulo Romero of Philippine Star