Friday, November 26, 2010

Senator Santiago criticizes Aquino administration for slashing budgets of State Universities and Colleges to fund its Conditional Cash Transfer program

Even as students from State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) in Metro Manila are marching to Mendiola today to reject the budget cuts of SUCs by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the Senate Secretariat confirmed that the Senate is meeting today to rush the passage of the 2011 national budget so that a bicameral conference committee (Senate and House) can meet to pass the final version of the budget before President Aquino signs it into law.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has promised to pass the 2011 national budget out of the Senate by December 1.

But Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, a member of the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA),
criticized budget cuts to SUCs, linking them to the Aquino administration's need to find sources of funds for its controversial Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, the terms of which several legislators are questioning.

The problem may not necessarily be with CCTs per se, however. An August 24, 2010 U.P. School of Economics white paper found that CCTs were one of the few bright spots in the policies of the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (see: and reccomended that they be continued. Rather, it is the conscious choice by the Aquino administration to target SUCs and slash their budgets that has created a major problem. Ironically, it is CCTs that have a very high approval rating for external funding from multilateral agencies and institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank because of their high success rate in temporarily alleviating poverty (see: . Thus there may not even be a necessity to cut SUCs budgets in the long-term as CCTs can be funded from other sources.

Senator Santiago said that as a result of cutting SUC funds to fuel CCTs, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman might find it “hard, if not impossible,” to get a CA confirmation, because her budget of P21 billion for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program is “indefensible.”

“It is unconscionable to make drastic cuts in the budget of the University of the Philippines and other state universities and colleges, which cater to poor students, in order to support a program of dole-outs without the necessary preparation,” Santiago said.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad proposed massive cuts in the budget of UP and other state universities and colleges (SUCs) for 2011. From P6.9 billion in 2010, Abad decreased UP’s budget to P5.5 billion, or a difference of P1.4 billion. Other SUCs are also threatened with budget cuts. Abad wants them to have a budget of P21.7 billion, down by some P700 million from their budget of P22.4 billion in 2010.

Meanwhile, Soliman wants the CCT program to have a whopping P21 billion allocation in 2011, which is more than a 100% increase from its 2010 budget of P10 billion.

“Cutting the budget of UP and SUCs to expand the CCT program is not the answer,” Santiago fumed.

Santiago said that the CCT program should go hand in hand with improvement of health and welfare services and infrastructure.

“Under the present CCT program, parents must ensure that their children go to school, and undergo regular health check-ups to continue to qualify for the program. But how can they do this if there are not enough schools or barangay health workers to see to their needs?” Santiago asked.

Last year, Santiago and Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to discuss the formula for the success of his Bolsa Familia program.

The Bolsa Familia program has been a huge success in Brazil. It is hailed all over the world for reducing poverty in Brazil.

After her meeting with Lula, Santiago filed Senate Bill No. 92, entitled “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program Act,” which is her own version of the CCT program. It is patterned after Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program.

(Sources: Philippine Senate Secretariat, Office of Senator Santiago:

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