House begins plenary deliberations on proposed 2021 National Budget

Marje Pelayo   •   September 28, 2020   •   320

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representative (HOR) on Monday (September 28) began deliberating House Bill 7727 or the 2021 General Appropriations Bill amounting to P4.506T. 

The floor opened with a discussion between Albay Representative Joey Salceda, the sponsor of the bill’s general principles and provisions, and interpellator Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo.

Quimbo asked if the proposed budget would be enough to fund recovery efforts for the economy and to support health programs especially the government’s response against coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In response, Salceda said such an amount is enough and it includes P440-B allocation for infrastructure which is, so far, the biggest as compared to the past allocations.

The budget deliberation in the Lower House is targeted to end on October 7 and to be submitted to the Senate on October 14.

It is expected to be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte before the year ends. 

Duterte calls Congress to special session to resume 2021 budget deliberations

Robie de Guzman   •   October 9, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has called Congress for a special session to resume deliberations on the proposed national budget for 2021.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the special session is scheduled for October 13 to 16, 2020.

Roque said the president’s move through Proclamation No. 1027, aims to “to resume the congressional deliberations on the proposed 2021 national budget and avoid any further delays on its prompt passage.”

The chief executive also certified the General Appropriations Bill which seeks to allocate P4.5 trillion budget for next year as urgent.

On Thursday, Duterte urged lawmakers to resolve the leadership row at the House of Representatives and to immediately pass the 2021 national budget.

He also appealed to the solons in the lower chamber not to drag him into the issue.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco are embroiled in a speakership controversy.

On Tuesday, Cayetano abruptly moved to pass the proposed spending measure on second reading and suspend the session until Nov. 16. This move is seen to prevent Velasco from taking the post despite their term-sharing agreement brokered by Duterte.

With the suspension of House sessions and the bill approved only on second reading, lawmakers have raised concern that the budget proposal may not be approved on time and may lead to a re-enacted budget.

Cayetano, however, maintained that there is still enough time for approval once the House resumes session in November.

Lacson urges Cayetano to resume House plenary session to pass 2021 budget

Robie de Guzman   •   October 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday called on House leaders to resume plenary sessions and approve the proposed 2021 national budget this month to avoid having a re-enacted spending plan next year.

Lacson said the House of Representatives is supposed to transmit the General Appropriations Bill to the Senate between Oct. 12 to 14 but House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano suspended the sessions this week amid the chamber’s speakership row.

The senator said he has already reached out to Cayetano to suggest the resumption of sessions to pass the budget bill on third and final reading.

“I have just suggested to the Speaker if it’s possible for him to resume their session, which is merely suspended and not adjourned, before All Saints’ Day just to approve on third and final reading the House version of the budget measure and thereafter transmit the same to us,” Lacson said.

The budget proposal was approved on second reading prior to the suspension of sessions.

Cayetano insisted that the abrupt suspension would only delay the transmission of the budget bill to the Senate for a day which was disputed by senators.

“Between Oct. 12 and 14 when the Senate is originally scheduled to receive the transmittal of the General Appropriations Bill from the House of Representatives, and Nov. 17 when the Speaker said they will be able to transmit the same to us, is definitely not a one-day difference as claimed by Speaker Cayetano,” Lacson said.

“I also told him the senators, especially the finance committee vice chairpersons, need at least one week to study the House version and submit to the mother committee our reports. Another week will be needed for the finance committee to consolidate everything and file its committee report,” he added.

Lacson said that in doing so, the Senate will be able to start floor debates immediate when it resumes session on Nov. 16.

Under the law, the House must first approve on final reading the budget bill before the Senate can tackle the measure.

Congress needs to pass the bill and transmit it for the president’s signature before the current government spending expires on Dec. 31.

“That is the only way we can ensure the timely passage of the budget measure. We cannot afford an impasse involving the most important piece of legislation that Congress has to pass: the national budget,”

If no new appropriations plan will be passed, the government will be forced to operate on a re-enacted budget that does not provide for COVID-19 response projects.

Senate sees a reenacted budget in 2021 due to tight schedule for deliberations

Marje Pelayo   •   October 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed disappointment over the tight schedule ahead of them for the deliberation of the proposed P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget.

This was after the House suspended its session on Tuesday (October 6) without passing on third and final reading the 2021 General Appropriations Bill.

According to Sotto, they are seeing a possible reenacted budget for the first month of 2021.

The Senate President said House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano vowed to transmit the copy of the bill on November 17.

However it would take a week for the printing of copies and the senators would need to study the contents first before they can take it up to the plenary for the debates.

Sotto underscored the need to scrutinize the bill for weeks, adding that they cannot be blamed for the possible delay in the passage of the budget. 

“Hindi kami pwedeng madaliin. Barya barya na nga lang nakakarating sa mga kababayan natin tapos hindi pa namin babantayan?” Sotto said.

With a reenacted budget, the Senate leader explained that it would affect the implementation of key services and job opportunities especially for Filipinos who lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, for Senator Panfilo Lacson, it is now impossible to pass the national budget before the year ends.

Lacson explained that it would take weeks before they can tackle the bill for plenary debates and it would also take three to four weeks for the interpellations and period of amendments.

According to Lacson, there is a chance for its timely passage if only the House can transmit to them the final version on October 14 — two days before the mandated break on October 17.

He added that the Executive department usually reviews the enrolled bill for two to three weeks before the President signs the measure.

“Ang maiipit, ang mamamayan Pilipino. Hindi kami sa Senate. Kami gagawin namin trabaho namin pag scrutinize,” Lacson said.

Senator Sonny Angara who also chairs the Committee on Finance said Cayetano also vowed to speed up some of the processes including the sending of advanced copies of the bill and even shortening the bicameral conference committee.

However, the senator said the only way that the bicam could be shortened is if the House agrees to adopt the Senate’s version of the bill.

Angara also expressed concern that should the government operate under a reenacted budget next year, it would affect the funding of new projects which is essential to economic recovery amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Doon parang nagkakaroon ng spur sa economy. Nagkakaroon ng trabaho kapag may proyekto. Makaka-hire ng trabahador sa probinsya kapag may bagong pondo, ” Angara explained.

“For instance DOLE’s TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers) and AKAP(Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong), mabibigyan ng pondo ang mga bumabalik na OFWs, iyong mga nawalan ng trabaho,” he added.

Angara and Sotto said the Senate is open should the Palace call for a special session for the passage of the budget, but Lacson believes this is no longer necessary as sessions would just be suspended and not adjourned.

Both chambers of Congress will adjourn on December 19, 2020. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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