The Senate and the House have agreed to meet halfway on their amendments to the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget
for 2019, which should have been passed before Congress adjourned for the Christmas break last year.
Senator Loren Legarda expressed hope that both chambers would immediately reconcile their differences over their versions of the budget so the budget may be approved within the remaining session days or before Congress goes on a break on Feb. 6.
Meanwhile, acting on the request of an urban poor community in Quezon City, House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has asked the bicameral conference committee on the proposed 2019 national budget to provide P350 million to help more than 8,000 urban poor families at the National Government Center to acquire the land they have long been occupying.
At the resumption of the Oversight Committee on the NGC for Urban Poor Housing, Arroyo said she had written a letter to the bicameral conference co-led by Legarda and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. requesting P350 million for the Department of Public Works and Highways for land acquisition and the reblocking of the NGC in Holy Spirit village in Quezon City in response to the appeal of the residents there.
“To help the effort out, I also wrote a letter in behalf of the Oversight Committee that I am joining you in requesting them for P350 million, which is the amount that [Quezon City Councilor] Rannie [Ludovica] said to include in the Bicam, but that’s just to give support because you said you could swing it but that’s for the Bicam,” Arroyo said.
Legarda head of the Senate Finance committee, said she hoped President Rodrigo Duterte could sign the budget on Valentine’s Day.
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“On January 28, Monday at 10 a.m., we will resume the bicameral conference of the budget and the House has committed to finish it on and before January 30 for a Senate ratification of February 6,” Legarda said.
“And hopefully, by Monday we will iron out the differences and come up with an agreement or a compromise on both houses’ amendments.”
Legarda said they had agreed to use the 2019 National Expenditure Program from Malacañang as a “point of reference” when they reconciled the differences in their versions of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget.
“We are all representatives of the people and we will ensure that the 2019 national budget will address the needs of the people, especially the poor and vulnerable,” Legarda said.
She said this was important because the passage of the national budget every year came with the hope of achieving real lasting growth for Filipinos.
She said one of the contentious issues to be tackled was the P75 billion deleted from the Department of Public Works and Highways’ proposed budget. She said the fund was realigned in favor of other agencies.
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The House version of the General Appropriations Bill contained the controversial P75 billion “adjustment” in the Public Works budget.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar told Legarda’s panel during the deliberations of the agency’s budget that he was not aware of the additional P75 billion until he saw the National Expenditure Program or Malacanang’s budget proposal that was submitted to Congress.
The Senate reduced the department’s budget when it approved the budget bill last Monday. Legarda said the P75 billion had “mutated” in next year’s national budget.
“Because it already evolved into something else in the GAB, it mutated or evolved so I don’t know,” Legarda said.
She did not say if the entire P75 billion was deleted from the agency’s budget.