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Senate buying time on budget bill

Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said Wednesday the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019 will not be approved before Congress goes on Christmas break if the House of Representatives submits it to the Senate on Monday.

Because of this, Zubiri said, there will be a reenacted budget for two weeks to a month.

In a news conference, Zubiri told reporters that if the House sends the budget proposal to them on Monday, the senators would still need time to read it, and the earliest they could begin deliberations would be on Nov. 28.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senator Panfilo Lacson held the same view, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III has already informed House leaders of this limitation.

“Realistically, we only have December 3, 4, and 5, and 10, 11, 12 to be able to pass it on third and final reading, but it’s too short. Senators who were with us, especially Senators Ping Lacson and Recto said it’s very difficult to be able to discuss intelligently, lengthily, pertinent provisions of the budget at this short period of time. We really can’t do it,” Zubiri said.

The House approved the P3.757-trillion proposed budget on third and final reading on Tuesday.

Zubiri also said they would most likely have marathon sessions on Thursdays and Fridays but in the past, it took the senators four weeks to discuss the budget in the plenary.

Even if the Senate passes the budget on third and final reading by Dec. 12, he said, the bicameral conference committee would still have to be convened to reconcile disagreeing provisions of the House and Senate versions.

After being informed of the senators’ stand regarding the budget, Zubiri said House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was quiet.

“She was quiet. She was still hoping that we could pass it earlier. But the problem, we were not at fault. We waited for so long for the deliberation of the budget. The delay came from the House, so we cannot do anything. We cannot cram,” he said.

Arroyo had wanted the Senate to hasten the approval of the budget but the senators stood their ground, saying this would be unrealistic.

The Senate leadership and their counterparts in the House of Representatives met earlier in the day to discuss the budget after a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Lacson had attributed the delay in the approval of the budget to the “pork insertions” by some members of the House.

READ: House averts reenacted budget

The House on Wednesday approved a joint resolution extending the validity of this year’s P3.767-trillion national budget until the end of 2019 to enable the national government to use the available funds under Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses as well as the Capital Outlays, particularly the allocations for the ongoing rehabilitation of Marawi City.

Compostela Valley Rep. Carmen Zamora, senior vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations, cited the importance for Congress to pass the joint resolution to ensure the use of unused funds of the 2018 national budget until Dec. 31, 2019.

“The onslaught of calamities destroyed vital infrastructures and affected the delivery of basic services to the affected communities. There are appropriations that have not been released and allotments issued that have not been obligated,” said Zamora, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 32.

“These automatically result in the reversion of the said unexpended appropriations to the unappropriated surplus of the general fund of the much-needed MOEE and capital outlay to fund priority projects, aid and relief as well as for the maintenance, construction, repair, and rehabilitation of schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, and other essential facilities of the national government,” Zamora added.

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya said the Senate leadership agreed to pass the joint resolution.

Meanwhile, the minority bloc in the House wanted Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to explain the alleged massive underspending of the government amounting to P1.3 trillion in 2017.

House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, chairman of the House committee on oversight, said Congress will subject Diokno to a question hour to explain the matter.

“We will summon the Budget secretary probably next week,” Suarez said at a news conference.

Suarez, who filed a resolution to call Diokno, said President Rodrigo Duterte may not know the real situation on the ground, suspecting that his economic managers are not telling the whole truth to him, including massive unemployment.

“The President entrusted this job to economic managers, he has his hands full in this fight against drugs, criminality, terrorism which should also be given due priority. There are issues being hidden from the President,” Suarez said in a mix of Filipino and English.

In the same media briefing, Coop-Natcco Party-list Rep. Antonio Bravo said underspending is now pegged at P1.3 trillion from 2015 and all the way to 2017.

“For every peso that we do not spend, we deprive our citizens of basic services,” Bravo said as he claimed the DBM does not have any report on the government savings.

“Sad to say while we have unused appropriations which could be used for employing our people… unemployment continues to surge so, therefore, the government itself is contributing to unemployment,” Bravo said.

READ: Palace presses for ‘19 budget okay

Topics: Miguel Zubiri , House of Representatives , Vicente Sotto III , Ralph Recto , Panfilo Lacson
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