The P20 billion institutional amendments in the House of Representatives-approved version of the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 were mere “corrections of style and of errata” and not actual or “literal” changes, a House official said on Wednesday.
Senior Deputy Speaker and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon made the statement after Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned the move of the House allowing the Executive branch to incorporate “errata” into the national budget.
Leachon clarified that the small committee did not introduce amendments to the national budget. He said the passage of the 2021 national budget went through a transparent process, thus its approval was legal and constitutional.
“They are more in the way corrections of style and of errata, and they do not add to the total amounts which are already fixed as deliberated upon at the plenary, but rather corrections of style and errata.
Needless to state, all past budget processes have accepted them with a presumption of regularity,” said Leachon, a member of the small committee.
Leachon also defended the move of the House leadership to accommodate the errata.
“Due to lack of material time and the interest of expediency, particularly so that we’re limited in a period stated in Proclamation 1027, Congress normally and traditionally does allow amendments after the third reading as these amendments are not literally so in that technical concept as to violate constitutional provisions,” Leachon explained to belittle Lacson’s argument the small committee’s act of introducing “institutional amendments” into the 2021 national budget was unconstitutional.
Lacson said changes were not allowed to the national budget after the House approved the national budget on third and final reading.
But Leachon said: “I assure you, I guarantee you, that as far as the House leadership is concerned, we are in accordance with our agreement with the Senate and, of course, in accordance with the Constitution.
We actually did not add or [make] any amendments after the third reading."
“We perfectly agree with Senator Lacson on this issue. We all want to have the next annual national budget that is free from constitutional attack. Apart from the objective as enunciated by Speaker [Lord Allan] Velasco, that is—This is the national budget” Leachon stressed.
“So why should this case be singled out? With deference to the Senate,
Speaker Velasco once again is categorical on this, that among his motivation to have a Congress that is with restored trust and integrity, is to start it right to lead the passage of the 2021 national budget that is fully transparent and constitutional with the ultimate thrust of giving the Filipino people a pandemic and economic responsive budget synchronized with the wishes of the Executive Department,” Leachon said.
Earlier, Velasco gave assurances there was no pork barrel in the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget, making it legal and constitutional.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, a member of the small committee, said
the small group had the consensus to consider only institutional amendments and departmental errata and accommodate individual amendments during the bicameral conference committee.
The soft copy of the third reading version of the 2021 national budget containing the P20 billion institutional amendments made by the small committee as disclosed by Salceda will be transmitted to the Senate on October 28.
Meanwhile, Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro batted for the restoration of P9.66 billion cuts and deleted items for the Department of Education under the proposed national government budget for 2021.
Castro, member of the House minority bloc, proposed that the following items be restored:
•P9,395,000 for Management and Administration of Learning Resources;
•P256,592,000 for Disaster Preparedness and Response Program;
•P3,896,000 for National Literacy Policies and Programs;
•P5,069,000 Basic Education Curriculum;
•P19,597,000 for Early Language Literacy and Numeracy;
•P5,359,563,000 for Basic Education Facilities;
•P616,035,000 for Conservation and restoration of Gabaldon and other heritage school buildings;
•P100,000,000 Quick Response Fund;
•P61,166,000 for Indigenous People’s Education program;
•P500,000,000 for School-Based Feeding Program;
•P184,996,000 for Implementation of the Grant of Cash Allowance, Hardship Pay, Equivalent Record Form (ERF), Conversion to Master Teacher (MT) and Reclassification of Positions;
•P104,096,000 for Human Resource Development for Personnel in Schools and Learning Centers; and
•P8,615,000 for Teacher Quality and Development Program.
Castro also proposed to retain the below-deleted items which were present in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) equivalent to
•P107,000,000 for Special Education Program;
•P1,424,323,000 for School Dental Health Care Program; and
•P900,000,000 for World Teachers’ Day Incentive Benefits.
Castro said: "It is high time that we prioritize education to ensure the learning continuity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“How come that the education sector received only a meager increase and that most of the vital and critical items received cuts and in worst cases, some of them were removed in the proposed 2021 budget when in fact the slashed budget will be short enough to ensure the delivery of safe, equitable and quality education?
"If the Duterte administration truly cares for the demands of the education sector, he must be responsive to the needs of learners, teachers, education and health personnel, especially since we've been dealing with this shift to blended learning scheme."
Castro stressed that teachers had adapted to this so-called "new normal" and had suffered enough, to think that some of them have contacted the coronavirus from delivering the modules.
Castro added: "The WTD incentive is the only consolation for our teachers in this time of crisis but it is rudely removed in the 2021 proposed budget.
“The SPEd program allocation, which will be beneficial for our deaf community, and among other learners benefitting from this program is also omitted while there is P16.4 billion proposed budget for
NTF-ELCAC which will only be used to harass civilians and to further the attacks among ordinary people.
“We urge the Lower House to restore these slashed and removed items in the 2021 proposed budget."