Drilon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee currently deliberating the proposed P1.645 trillion national outlay, said the budget for SUCs in the 2010 budget "was loaded with congressional insertions" which were not actually released due to the widening budget gap expected to reach P325 billion by yearend.
"There was no way by which these additional amounts could have been released because there were no additional revenues," Drilon said during Friday's marathon hearings on the money measure.
He said that then President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had issued a "conditional veto" indicating that the "release of the increased items of appropriations is subject to the identification by Congress of new revenue measures..."
"For the record, we did not remove anything. What happened is that in the 2010 budget, embedded in that budget are congressional insertions... to the amount of over P2.8 billion," he said, adding that the congressional initiatives came from realignments from debt service interest payments due to "disagreements" in the peso-dollar exchange rate.
In fact, Drilon said, subsidies to SUCs have been increased in next year's budget to P21.7 billion, from only P19.6 billion submitted by Arroyo for congressional approval. When the 2010 budget was approved, a total of P2.8 billion has been padded as congressional insertions by lawmakers, bringing the total budget of SUCs to P22.4 billion.
In the 2011 budget, President Benigno Aquino III submitted to Congress P21.7 billion for SUC subsidies.
"These are insertions which could not be possibly sustained. President Aquino's budget for 2011, in fact, increased Arroyo's budget by P2.125 billion for SUCs except that the congressional insertions were not continued," Drilon explained.
Kabataan Partylist: Drilon, et al. paint a distorted picture of reality
But according to Vencer Crisostomo, Secretary General of Kabataan Party-list and spokesperson of the anti-budget cut alliance Kilos na Laban sa Budget Cut, “the historic solidarity of different sectors within SUCs have set ablaze the fight against the proposed slashing of SUCs budget for 2011. Now, we are immersing ourselves to intense organizing and conceptual work since we will be launching the biggest-ever strike against the machinations of the Aquino administration.”
Attended by SUCs from the National Capital Region, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon, the gathering geared up for a massive protest on December 1, 2010 at the Senate, where the national budget is under deliberation. In the past two weeks, thousands have poured into the streets as Senate deliberates on the national budget. Crisostomo said that the upcoming protests will “shake the sense out of the Aquino administration” to stop the budget cuts.
“The Aquino government would do well to heed the call of the people against the budget cuts. Otherwise, we will continue on painting the town red, as it were, with determined and militant protest actions nationwide,” Crisostomo said
‘Brush up on their reading skills’
Despite the strong opposition of SUCs against the budget cuts, Malacanang yesterday reiterated its prescription that SUCs commercialize and dip into their own resources. Sentors Franklin Drilon and Vicente Sotto, on the other hand, have countered the claims of budget cut as unreal and unfounded.
“The Aquino government justifies the budget cut by claiming that SUCs should commercialize to fill up budgetary deficits. What does this effectively mean? It means that tuition rates will once again increase in SUCs and that Aquino is bent on changing the nature of SUCs as schools for the can-afford. This is inadmissible,” Crisostomo said.
“The claims of Senators Franklin Drilon and Vicente Sotto that the budget cut is fictive cannot but appear as downright wrong. The slashing of the operating expenses and the zero budget for capital outlay are not part of the “congressional insertions” which have been removed from the 2011 proposed budget. They would do well to brush up on their reading skills or get a better research team,” he added.
Earlier last week, the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) had vowed to go full-force in joining the national protests against the budget cuts. In Congress, around 100 lawmakers have signed the petition against the cuts, as initiated by Rep. Raymond Palatino of Kabataan Party-list.
“The peddled lies and machinations of the Aquino administration and its cohorts cannot and will not douse the strong spirit of solidarity of the people against the budget cuts. We grow stronger in asserting the democratic right of every Filipino to quality and accessible tertiary education,” Crisostomo said.
Telephone calls made by the Diliman Diary to the Senate Secretariat confirmed that the budgets of SUCs has already been taken up under the Senate's Order of Business last November 23.
The only possiblity for further amendments to the budget of SUCs being taken up is when the bicameral conference committee made up of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate meet to thresh out the joint consolidated final version from both Houses of Congress to be submitted to Malacañang and then signed into law as the 2011 General Appropriations Act by President Benigno S. Aquino III. This is when last minute horse-trading and additional insertions into the budget take place by and between legislators.
Previously, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said that the Senate was committed to finish its work by December 1. The Senate has been working throughout the weekend and overtime in order to pass the Senate version of the 2011 national budget as the House version has already been passed.
Earlier, in the case of the University of the Philippines System, for example U.P. President Emerlinda R. Roman disclosed that she had gathered initial commitments from Senators for the following additional allocations:
- Philippine General Hospital P150 million
- National Science Center P200 million
- ERDT P300 million
- UP Cebu P 30 million
However, the Senate and Congressional insertions on behalf of U.P. and other SUCs are no guarantee that they will be respected by President Aquino, who has made it clear that he intends to exercise his power of conditional veto which is a line-by-line prerogative power to veto specific provisions in the budget that he disapproves of (See: http://www.gov.ph/2010/11/30/education-remains-a-priority-briefer-on-the-education-and-suc-budget-for-2011/).
(Sources: Senate Secretariat and press releases of the Philippine Senate and Kabataan Partylist)