Senate approved P1.645-trillion budget for next year
By Jason de Asis

SEANATE OFFICE, Manila, December 2, 2010-The Philippine Senate passed the P1.645 trillion national budget for fiscal year 2011 Wednesday night after long days of debates particularly on the controversial cash grant to poor families which eventually saw the approval of the majority.
The Senate approved House Bill 3101 on a 12-2 vote, with Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Pia Cayetano voting against the administration’s spending plans. The Palace’s certified measure has been simultaneously approved on the second and third reading, bypassing a three-day rule in between approvals.
Senator Franklin Drilon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said that the approval of the budget demonstrated concerns for the people’s need, saying that the chamber kept its promises in preventing the government from operating on a reenacted budget next year.
The Senate version of the budget largely tracks President Benigno C. Aquino III’s spending plans, with critical investments in social services aimed at reining in poverty incidence, with the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program a priority in the budget.
On December 6 or 7, a bicameral conference committee will be convened to iron out disagreements between the Senate and House versions of the budget while on December 13, there will be a  ratification of the budget measure.
The Senators voted to maintain the President’s CCT program, amid calls to cut part of the program’s P21.9 billion allocation and realign to education, agriculture and health services. Senators questioned the capability of the Department of Social Welfare and Development as the implementing agency to handle such a huge amount.
The cash grant of at least P1,400 monthly seeks to cover 2.3 million household beneficiaries or half of the estimated 4.6 million poor families living below the poverty line.
The program was initiated by the previous administration and currently covers 1 million beneficiaries or about 25% of total poor families and the Aquino administration wanted the coverage to be increased further to 50% or 2.3 million families in 2011.
As for state universities and colleges (SUCs), Drilon said that the chamber will increase subsidies for state schools from the proposed P21.7 billion submitted by the President to Congress. Drilon said that the SUC will not suffer any cut; however, he emphasized that those items in the SUC budget which were inserted and which were vetoed by President Arroyo cannot be brought back, saying that the Senate cannot reinstate the P1.7 billion in congressional insertions and initiatives.
He added that the 2011 maintenance and other operating expenses will be at least at the same level as the 2010 MOOE as appearing in the National Expenditure Program, adding that the 2011 budget for SUCs will carry the amount necessary to comply with the salary increases in compliance with the Salary Standardization Law. (Jason de Asis)