The second regular session of the 17th Congress went off to a big start Monday, with the Senate and the House of Representatives holding their opening sessions during which they firmed up their lists of priority bills, before coming together in a joint session to hear President Duterte deliver his second State-of-the-Nation Address.
On top of the Senate list are the proposed P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 and the amendment of the Constitution principally to set up a federal form of government for the country. The House also has the constitutional amendment bill and the Bangsamoro bill on top of its agenda.
At the joint session, the legislators heard President Duterte speak on several concerns of his administration, notably a warning to mining companies to correct practices which have destroyed rivers and watersheds, a vow to clean out the Maute rebels and their Islamic State supporters from Mindanao, and an appeal to the nation’s courts against issuing temporary restraining orders that delay the projects of the government.
The President then personally submitted the proposed national budget of over P3.7 trillion for 2018 which is 12.4 percent greater than the previous year’s budget. The P691-billion appropriation for education includes the construction of 4,000 classrooms, the rehabilitation of 18,000 other classrooms, the procurement of 84,781 school seats, and the hiring of 81,100 new teachers.
Along with the new classrooms, the administration plans scores of other projects under its “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program – roads and bridges, seaports and airports, rail roads in Central Luzon and the Bicol region, and R6.6-billion for Phase 1 of the Mindanao Railway Project which, when completed, will connect the entire Mindanao island as never before.
By government department, the biggest appropriations are for the Department of Education, State Universities and Colleges, and the Commission on Higher Education – P649.5 billion; the Department of Public Works and Highways – P467.7 billion; the Department of the Interior and Local Government – P149.4 billion; the Department of Health – P148.6 billion; and Department of National Defense – P137 billion.
President Duterte described the proposed budget as an “activist bill” designed to carry out so many programs of government that have not been given as much attention and funding in the past. The proposed budget, he added, addresses the people’s aspirations for “buhay na matatag, maginhawa, at panatag.”
The greatly increased funds for the armed forces and the police will help carry out the goal of providing a secure (matatag) and peaceful (panatag) life for the nation. As for the Filipino masses, they look forward to the promise of a better (maginhawa) life. The billion-peso projects will provide widespread employment for many, to be followed by the economic benefits generated by new and better roads, railways, airports, and seaports.
The promise of a better life for the nation was made last Monday at the President’s SONA and in the budget he submitted to Congress. We look forward to the realization of that promise in the coming months and years.