The House of Representatives hopes to transmit its approved version of the 2020 national budget to the Senate by Oct. 1 to give senators enough time to scrutinize the P4.1-trillion spending plan and approve it before the year ends.
READ: Swift budget okay prods Senate action
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said lawmakers will also seek the passage of a consolidated joint resolution to ensure that funding is available for key national projects under the 2019 General Appropriations Act by extending until Dec. 31, 2020 the validity of the maintenance and other operating expenses and capital outlays from the 2019 budget.
“Without the extension, the unused funds will go back to the National Treasury,” said Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on rules. “This is the best option to address the delayed implementation of programs and projects for the delivery of basic services.”
At the same time, Romualdez confirmed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s statement that the House has made about P10 billion in institutional amendments to the Palace-proposed budget.
“The institutional amendments will be introduced and will be part of the general appropriations bill [GAB] that will be printed and which will be transmitted to the Senate by Oct. 1 so that at least before the break, our work with respect to the GAB will be completed,” Romualdez said.
Of the P10 billion in institutional amendments, P5.7 billion will come from the Commission on Elections budget for the postponed barangay and youth elections. Some P3.7 billion will come from unimplemented road right-of-way purchases of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
READ: House draws up new priority list
The realigned funds will go to the Department of Agriculture for the purchase of palay worth over P3 billion, Romualdez said.
Development outlays will also be given to the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, and the Department of Education for the operation of elementary, junior, senior high schools and construction of day care centers nationwide.
Additional funds will also be given to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for its natural resources conservation development program and protective areas development management.
Other departments that will benefit from the amendments are the Department of Health, the National Center for Mental Health and the Quick Response Fund of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital the Department of Transportation, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Sports Commission, budgetary support to government corporations, and local government units.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the allocations based on the so-called bottom-up budgeting unless exorbitant, would not be considered pork.
Sotto issued the statement in the wake of Senator Panfilo Lacson’s allegations that the budget gives congressmen allocations of P700 million each and the 22 deputy speakers P1.5 billion each.
READ: Palace to scrutinize budget for hidden ‘pork’
Lacson said if the plan pushes through, the total amount of pork-barrel for House members would reach P54 billion.
But Sotto said if this comes from the bottom-up budgeting in the National Expenditure Program, and if the budget per legislative district is not too high, it cannot be considered pork.
“But if you shuffle it, you move something, and you have lump sums allotted for various areas, then you may call it pork,” Sotto said.
“If the allocations are huge, the mentality of some of our colleagues, specially Senator Lacson, is that don’t make it too obvious. Because it looks like pork even if it’s not,” he added.
Sotto said he is confident the Senate can pass the proposed budget by end of November if the House submits the bill to them by next week at the latest.
Once the House of Representatives transmits its approved budget bill either this week or next week. he said the Senate could start plenary deliberations next month.
READ: House approves P4.1-trillion budget
Congress will go on break on Oct. 4 and will resume on Nov. 4.
“Maybe when we resume in November, second week of November, we can start the interpellation period,” he said.
Sotto said the interpellation period could take two to three weeks. He said they can approve the bill on second and third reading in the last week of November since President Rodrigo Duterte certified the budget bill as urgent.
He added the Senate and House of Representatives can then convene the bicameral conference committee on the first week of December.
This would be different from last year when the House version of the budget was submitted to the Senate in the last week of November, Sotto said.
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