The House of Representatives approved Monday on third and final reading the bill extending the validity of the 2021 General Appropriations Act until Dec. 31, 2022 by a vote of 168-6-0.
The bill amends Section 62 of the general provisions of Republic Act 11518, the General Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2021, to enable agencies to fully utilize the allocated budget for this year.
Under the bill, the appropriations for infrastructure capital outlays, including subsidy releases to government-owned and -controlled corporations for infrastructure projects, shall be valid for obligation until Dec. 31, 2022, while the completion of construction, inspection, and payment shall be made no later than Dec. 31, 2022.
The bill also provides that appropriations for maintenance and other operating expenses and other capital outlays shall likewise be valid for obligation until Dec. 31, 2022, while the delivery, inspection, and payment shall be made not later than Dec. 31, 2022.
Last week, the committee chaired by ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap approved House Bill 10373 that seeks to extend the availability of the 2021 appropriations from Dec. 31, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022, to allow the agencies to fully utilize the allocated budget for 2021.
The P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022 reached the Senate three weeks ago, as Senate finance panel chairman Sen. Sonny Angara endorsed for plenary approval Committee Report No. 332, which contains the 2022 General Appropriations Bill.
The chamber wants to pass the national budget for next year by the first week of December, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
It is considered the biggest budget in the country’s history as it intends to fight COVID-19 and help the economy get back on track.
A big chunk of the 2022 allocation will go to the Department of Education (â‚±773.6 billion) followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (â‚±686.1 billion) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (â‚±250.4 billion).
The Department of Health, the lead agency in addressing the health crisis, will get â‚±242 billion.
“It is really a health budget, at least from the point of view of the Senate version or the Senate committee report because those are really massive additions or movements in the budget,” Angara said.
The Senate finance committee introduced amendments to the House version of the budget, which was transmitted to the upper chamber in October, to further boost the government’s pandemic response.
The Senate panel added P16.245 billion under the budget of the DOH for the procurement of third doses or booster shots. This was on top of the P45.3-billion unprogrammed appropriations that was earlier proposed by the executive department to Congress.
In related developments, former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano urged his fellow lawmakers to craft a more integrated system for providing aid to workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as the Senate looks set to wind down its 2022 national budget deliberations this week.
Cayetano pointed out that while social amelioration programs in the proposed budget next year stood at around P554 billion, these funds are still under different implementing agencies which may lead to problems in disbursement.
“The good news is we have P554 billion, including the 4Ps [Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program], that will be set aside for aid to our countrymen. The bad news is that money will be divided among different departments and so not everyone will automatically be given cash aid,” he said.
“But if you set aside P200 billion and give every Filipino family P10,000 in cash, then the money will be used more directly, cutting administrative costs because local government units will do the distribution,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senator Win Gatchalian is seeking to fill the shortfall in the Senior High School Voucher Program (SHS-VP) to prevent the mounting of government debt to private schools.
If the SHS-VP budget would remain insufficient, Gatchalian warned that the DepEd’s debt to private schools will continue to increase.
The government currently owes P35 billion to private schools under the SHS-VP.
“I am just concerned with the Senior High School Voucher Program next year because if we cannot fund the P9 billion and the amount being approved under the unprogrammed funds, the debt or what we owe to the private schools will always increase every year and this will never end,” said Gatchalian.
“If we continue to have a shortfall, this will increase over time and we will never be able to catch up at one point,” he added.
SHS VP is a financial assistance program in the form of vouchers that subsidizes qualified SHS learners from participating private or non-DepEd public senior high schools.