People´s groups plant Christmas Tree of Hope at the Bicam Meeting

Source: Social Watch Philippines

Members of nongovernment organizations and urban poor groups today fixed up a Christmas Tree in front of the Philippine Coconut Authority in Quezon City in time for the Bicameral Conference Committee´s meeting to finalize the 2011 national budget.
"This is our Christmas Tree of Hope and Reform. We are decorating this with Christmas Balls expressing our call for the Bicameral Conference Committee members to give the poor people a merry Christmas by realigning lump sum items in the budget to increase the budget for pro-poor programs," said Marivic Raquiza, convenor of Social Watch Philippines (SWP) which organized the Alternative Budget Initiative, the network globally acknowledged for initiating Congress-citizens´ partnerships for alternative budget proposals.

Former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, SWP lead convenor, explained that the citizens´ groups are actually calling for the Bicam and President Benigno Aquino III to use the lump sums to increase the budget for poverty alleviation programs instead of sacrificing certain pro-poor programs.

"They could get the funds to increase the budgets for health, agriculture, environment and education from the lump sum items such as the P21 billion Conditional Cash Transfer Program budget under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD); the P30.5 billion Unprogrammed Funds - Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs; the P1 billion fund subsidy for contingencies; as well as the Public-Private Partnership Support Fund," said Briones.

The group also used effigies of Bicam members as they decorate their Christmas Tree with the Christmas balls with written wishes for the marginalized sectors.

"We call on the Bicameral Conference Committee to increase the budget for Expanded Program on Immunization for infants, children and the elderly, vaccine self-sufficiency and the subsidy for health insurance premium of indigent families including P500,000,000 for informal sector enrolled in the National Health Insurance Program," said Mercy Fabros of Woman Health Philippines.

"There is still hope because the Bicam can still allocate P9 billion for the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy rice from our local farmers; and allocate P550 million for provision of climate-resistant livelihood for fishers in the light of massive poverty among coastal communities in the Philippines," said Hazel Tanchuling of the Rice Watch and Action Network.

"They should increase the budget for Alternative Learning System, which is supposed to cater to the out-of-school youth should be increased to P2,500 per learner for 500,000 learners. While about 20 percent of school-aged Filipino children are out of the school system, a measly budget of less than one percent of the Education budget is allocated to reach the out-of-school," said Rene Raya of Action for Economic Reforms.

"They slashed the housing budget from P11 billion to P5.6 billion. We hope that the Bicam would see it as their moral obligation to help us, homeless families and informal settlers, because we also contribute so much to our economy" said Erning Ofracio of the Aktibong Kilusan Tungo sa Iisang Bayan (AKTIB).

"We commend Senators Allan Cayetano and Pia Cayetano for raising the fact that the 2011 budget contains skewed priorities and continues the previous administration´s severe under spending for social development programs on health, education, agriculture and environment. Add to this, even Congressmen themselves complained that reductions were made in the programs of frontline agencies and transferred to lump sum items without sufficient details," said Reginald Guillen, national coordinator of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

"We hope that the Bicam members would consider our Christmas Tree of Hope and Reform and grant the people´s wish of a happier Christmas, a better New Year, and better lives by considering what the citizens´ think about public funds," Guillen said.