(PN photo)

Delivery of basic health services, education, and infrastructure projects—these are the priorities of Governor Victorino Dennis M. Socrates, which he laid down during his address at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on Tuesday.

Socrates stated in his State of the Province Address (SOPA) that the outcomes of the Usapang Palawan summit, led by the Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO) last August 17-19, will be the primary focus of his administration.

He also instructed the PPDO to study the possibility of creating a “People’s Council” that will continue the initial talks conducted, and monitor the development of programs laid down during the summit.

He said the provincial government must first address the budget, wherein he lauded the local finance committee of the provincial government, together with the department heads and the Committee on Appropriations, for being able to submit the annual local expenditures program in time for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to deliberate.

He, however, said that for the remainder of the year, the provincial government is still operating under the 2022 budget, citing the initiatives of former governor and now 2nd District Representative Jose C. Alvarez.

He pointed out in particular that Alvarez built 16 hospitals, more than 60 water systems, and around 200 infrastructure projects, including more than 1,000 kilometers of roads.

For the 2023 budget, he first referred to the Mandanas-Garcia Supreme Court ruling, which states that the constitution entitles local government units (LGU) to the tax collected by the national government to be shared equally, aside from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) that LGUs receive.

Socrates said because of the Mandana-Garcia ruling, the provincial government’s budget rose from P3.1 billion in 2021 to P4.3 billion this year, after the National Tax Allocation (NTA), which was formerly known as the IRA, was increased.

He noted that because of the economic decline in 2020 brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NTA for 2023 was slashed by around P600 million, bringing it down to P3.7 billion, and the provincial government’s budget also down from P4.8 billion to P4.29 billion.

He also said that a lot of the proposed P4.29 billion budget for 2023 has already been spent on programs that are required by law, even though the budget hasn’t been approved yet.

These include the 20% infrastructure development fund, the 5% Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund, Personal Services, which includes employee salaries, wages, and benefits, accounting for nearly 30% or more or less P1.29 billion, debt service and loan amortization, and Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses of every department of the provincial government.

The governor stated that he intends to propose to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) the allocation of funds for the construction of a Forward Operating Base out of the preparedness component of the LDRRM fund, which can also serve as a mini-capitol in strategic areas of the province.

Shifting focuse to health, Socrates again mentioned the hospitals constructed, adding the soon-to-open school of medicine at Palawan State University.

“Prayoridad rin ng ating administrasyon ang patakbuhin ng maayos ang ating mga ospital, na ngayon ay nasa pangkalahatang pangangasiwa ng Provincial Health Office na pinamumunuan ni Dra. Erica Labrador,” he said.

“(At) ang isang napakagandang tanda ng pag-asa ay ang nalalapit nang pagbukas ng College of Medicine ng Palawan State University. Salamat, President Ramon Docto, sa inyong pagsisikap na maitatag ang College of Medicine. Nangangahulugang higit na maraming kabataang Palawenyo ang maaaring mag-aral ng medisina at mga kalapit na kurso; nadagdagan ang bukal na maaaring pagmulan ng mga propesyonal na magpapatakbo ng ating mga ospital,” he added, also noting the P50 million scholarship for students taking up medicine and other medical and health-related courses.

With the return of in-person classes, Socrates also brought up the lack of classrooms, which was made worse by the effects of Typhoon Odette in some municipalities last year.

“Mahigit apat na raang silid-aralan ang kabuuang kailangan, ayon sa mga LGU; mayroon mahigit sa P50 million ang inaasahang Special Education Fund ng 2023 na pinamamahalaan ng ating Local School Board. P16 million dito ang nakalaan sa paggawa ng mga schoolbuildings,” he noted.

“May tinitingnan din tayong posibilidad na madagdagan ito ng P75 million mula sa pondong hindi nagamit noong mga taong 2019 hanggang 2021, he added.