Press Release
December 10, 2007

Loren wants more budget in 2008 for 26-M Filipinos who live on P40 a day

Government spending in 2008 for long-suffering Juan dela Cruz may once again be sacrificed at the altar of debt servicing and government's dream of attaining a balanced budget.

Senator Loren Legarda issued this warning yesterday at the floor of the Senate in delivering her en contra speech or critique of the upper chamber's version of the proposed P1.227 trillion national budget for 2008.

Legarda lamented that the projected government spending for poverty reduction, education, health, reduction of infant and maternal mortality, agriculture, education, gender equality and the environment leaves much to be desired.

Thus, she asked the Senate to reconfigure allocations for next year to provide additional funding of at least P20 billion more for social services, in order to uplift the lives of poor Filipinos.

Legarda cited an estimate made by Dr. Rosario Manansan of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies that an additional P94.904 billion is needed in 2008 to address, poverty, education, health, water and sanitation concerns.

However, Legarda stressed that any increase in the budget for social services should come from a realignment of the spending program submitted to Congress by the executive department.

She said that even as she bats for increasing the budget for social services, which is dwarfed by the P618 billion allocated for debt servicing, she worries that public spending for the people may, in fact, be lessened even.

This because the P1.227 trillion proposed budget was premised on the government attaining a balanced budget for 2008, despite revenue and tax collection deficits in 2007 which may also hold true for 2008, Legarda explained.

She pointed at the P56.020 billion shortfall in tax collections in the first three quarters of 2007, which she said is mitigated only by frenzied privatization activities by the government and underspending.

Legarda warned that underspending, most likely cut from social expenditures, amounted to P38.686 billion in the first nine months of the current year.

Granting that a balanced budget can be attained by underspending and privatization of the country's assets, Legarda warned of the danger of spending for poverty reduction, education, health and the like being cut anew.

"This has happened before and can happen again."

"It is in this light, Mr. President, that this representation is proposing that the proposed P20 billion increase proposed by the civil society organizations convened by Social Watch Philippines be considered seriously," Legarda said at the Senate floor.

"I am referring to the Alternative Budget Initiative whose amount is still far below the Manansan estimates but certainly higher than the proposal of the Senate Finance Committee."

She stressed that public spending for 2008 will have greater impact on alleviating the plight of the poor by providing greater resources on health, education, the environment and agriculture.

"Although the allocation for the Department of Health increased from P11.56 billion in 2007 to P16.24 billion in 2008, it is not even among the top five national agencies in terms of share in the national budget," she said.

Specifically, she cited the need to increase the budget for the DOH's Tuberculosis Program from "a measly" P280 million to P1 billion, intensifying research on infectious and emerging diseases and ensuring proper waste disposal.

The sad state of Philippines education - with classroom sizes of 50 student per room, record level drop-out rates ( 10.56 percent for elementary level and 15.81 percent for secondary level) - also calls for additional funding to be redirected towards it, she said.

"While the Department of Education has a total allocation of P139 billion in the 2008 budget and while state colleges and universities ranks ahead of health in our budgetary priority, education experts remain unconvinced that the government has finally paid adequate attention to our constitutional priority," she said.

She pointed out that DepEd's P139.6 billion plus the P2 billion School Building Program for 2008 is just half of the P290 billion budget for servicing of debt interest payments.

Legarda also batted for an additional appropriation of P2.7 billion to the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to fund its environmental and natural resources protection programs.

"Even as the agriculture sector accounts for 15 percent of gross domestic product and nearly 40 percent of employment, 70 percent of the country's poor reside within agricultural areas," said Loren, adding "poverty has a distinct rural face."

"The dual causality between rural growth, which can be attained by spurring agricultural growth and easing the problem of mass poverty is a fact," she said.

The senator said that the P23 billion budget for agriculture is simply not enough for a renewed drive for the country to regain its stature as an agricultural heavyweight from its present sorry state of agricultural importer.

She said that a "reformatted, reformed and disciplined version of the Masagana 99 will not only produce the 16 or 17 million metric tons of rice a year for domestic consumption. It will also serve as the true anchor of our food security aspirations."

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