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The season is upon us

By: Kairos dela Cruz

As someone working on climate finance, I continue to argue that the Philippines has three seasons instead of just two—wet and dry. The third one is called the budget season. I also believe this third period is the most unpredictable of all. It can be a season of giving — giving chances, that is, to those who have had little. It can also be the string of events where dreams wither and die.

I’m neither a weather scientist nor a budget analyst; we have friends doing that kind of work (superbly, if I might add). I’m just a climate finance policy guy who is very much aware of the importance of including R.A. 10174, or the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), in the national budget.

PSF has had its fair share of ups and downs in the budget season.

It hasn’t fared well in the last two years. But it hasn’t been all gloomy and unforgiving.

In the 2012 budget season, the PSF made its way for the first time in the national budget, in “Unprogrammed Funds,” which means items that will require triggers before actual cash is allocated. Though non-binding, it was nevertheless welcomed a good start since it explicitly placed the PSF in the country’s national budget proposal, thus increasing its chances of appearing again in future budget deliberations.

It was a compromise PSF advocates then were willing to take. Me? I saw it as a step forward, coming on the year of the PSF law’s passage. And so we prepared harder for 2013, with the aim of pushing the PSF into the Programmed Funds column.

When the 2013 budget season arrived, chaos ruled the day. Government was virtually frozen by one of the biggest corruption scandals ever in the country; by November, the strongest typhoon that ever made landfall in world history dropped by the Philippines.

I was hoping the actual wet season would give the PSF a fighting chance during the budget season. After all, increasing the capacity of localities to prepare for disasters such as extreme typhoons is considered one of the PSF’s objectives. Perfect timing, right?

Unfortunately, “perfect timing” ended up drowning out the PSF in favor of other — very necessary but also yet again really just reactive measures — that sucked up urgent budgeting attention. And this was only worsened by the incompetence of major players in government. I won’t name names but I’ve always harbored the same thought for these people since last year — “May you have sleepless nights until you correct the great mistakes you’ve made.”

So, the 2013 budget season? It was dark for PSF. Good thing this budget season a glimmer of hope has shone early.

In a recent July national budget proposal presentation to President Aquino, officials of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) singled out the PSF as a crucial turning point in the country’s efforts to become more resilient. It was a whisper that became more real when the DBM released the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2015.

According to the document, the PSF represents the P1 billion increase in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF), which currently stands at P13 billion.

What circumstances led to the inclusion of PSF, and why is it now a part of the NDRRMF? We still have to find out.

The NEP as much as it is an official document will still be subject to various changes as the budget season moves along. The House and the Senate will have their own ways of dissecting the budget proposal. Since, by experience, it will again be a process of balance and compromise, it is still very possible that the PSF will be dropped.

As we step towards the budget season, we have to wonder who exactly in the legislature will champion the cause of transformational climate change adaptation. Who will be the voice of the vulnerable and the unheard?

Download the report “Accessing the People’s Survival Fund”

Editor’s note: The featured image was taken by the author in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur after Typhoon Pablo in December 2012.

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