By Azer N. Parrocha
MANILA, Sept. 7 (PNA) — The PHP428.618 million proposed 2017 budget for the Office of the Vice President is 14.28 percent lower than its 2016 budget, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo said Wednesday.
Robredo presented the 2017 budget proposal for her office to the Senate Committee on Finance, saying that she is confident that even with a lower budget, the office would still be able to carry out housing projects for informal settlers.
During the hearing, Robredo told committee chairperson Senator Loren Legarda that her office has saved PHP200,000 monthly for opting to stay in a cheaper Reception House in Quezon City instead of the Coconut Palace in Pasay City.
Robredo, who chairs the Housing Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), also said that she does not need a higher budget for travel since she usually travels with a lean staff and stays in the same accommodation with them.
The Vice President however estimated that the National Housing Authority (NHA) has an estimated backlog of 5.6 million houses and stressed the need to “revolutionize” housing policies.
According to Robredo, the current status quo is not working since the previous administration has failed to provide a complete inventory and more market-driven training programs for informal setters.
She also noted that her predecessor, former vice president Jejomar Binay, has not released a comprehensive roadmap for the agency’s plans aside from the roadmap made during the recent National Housing Summit.
“We need two things: A list of government properties that are available for housing and an inventory of informal settler families, which is currently not available,” Robredo told reporters in an interview.
The former Camarines Sur representative said that although data are available in other agencies and in local government units, there is a need to gather all of them so that the HUDCC could consolidate them.
Robredo also said that the most recent data on the number of informal settlers she has acquired from the NHA is 1.4 million while the rest are “all estimates”.
She also agreed with Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito’s recommendation on the creation of a housing department to “move forward” with housing projects.
Although she acknowledged her office’s need for a high budget, she said that it is more important to “fix the system”.
She explained that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has a so-called “absorptive capacity” that mandates an agency’s budget to be reduced if the previous budget has not been utilized.
“While we need a high budget, I think at this time it is more important to fix the system because there are also other agencies that don’t maximize their budget,” Robredo said.
She said that one of the reasons why the agency’s housing program does not work is an institutional problem, since the agency does not have enough mandate to streamline all the agencies under it.
“We want to act on it but we can’t because we don’t have the mandate,” she explained, noting that the agency does not even have a complete list of appointed officials yet.
“If you look at the structure, there are six key shelter agencies that are under HUDCC but when you look at the mandate of HUDCC, it doesn’t really have the function of reorganizing, streamlining the agencies. It works as the chairman of agencies but if they want to change something in the agency, HUDCC can’t do that,” she said.
Robredo said that with the creation of a Department of Housing, she hopes that the agency’s current problems would be remedied.