Senators fear post-approval amendments, delay in budget
MANILA, Philippines — Some senators on Wednesday raised fears that post-approval amendments could be made in the proposed 2021 national budget if the House of Representatives will not immediately submit to the Senate the printed copy of the measure.
During Thursday’s plenary session, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he got information that the lower chamber supposedly plans to submit to the Senate a printed copy of the House-approved General Appropriations Bill (GAB) more than two weeks after it is expected to pass it on third reading.
“I’m told by somebody from the House that they’re only submitting [on] Nov. 5,” Sotto said. The House is expected to approve the GAB, which contains the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget, on Friday, Oct. 16.
“That’s the same thing, that’s the same proposal of [former] Speaker [Alan] Cayetano. If that’s the case, we’ll still be delayed,” the Senate president said.
The House is now under the leadership of newly-installed Speaker Lord Allan Velsaco.
Sotto asked his fellow senators to get in touch with the House leadership to inform them that “we need it before October 30 or at least next week.”
“They can print it, if they pass it tomorrow, pwedeng-pwede [i-print] within seven days,” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson was alarmed by this.
“If they [House] will pass on third reading tomorrow, I cannot understand why they would submit the GAB to us on Nov. 5. Unless may plano na naman silang mag-amend [they have a plan to amend] after the third reading,” Lacson said.
“That’s unacceptable. If they will pass it on third reading tomorrow, immediately thereafter they should transmit the budget bill to us,” he further stressed.
Senate Minority Franklin Drilon agreed with Lacson, saying that it has supposedly been the “practice” of the House to allow amendments to be made in the budget bill despite it having already been approved on final reading.
“They will pass it on third reading on the record and then in the process of printing, they will accept amendments from the individual members. That is why they cannot present a copy when they vote on it, because they will amend,” Drilon said.
“That’s their practice, so that is what will happen. That is why they will be able to submit only the printed copy only on Nov. 5 because they will approve it on third reading and they will do the amendments,” he added.
Lacson then said: “That’s what I’m saying, nothing much has changed from the previous leadership. It’s all the same.”
Further, Lacson raised the possibility of a reenacted budget should the House only transmit the budget bill to the Senate on Nov. 5.
“Kung Nov. 5, give or take another 14 days: One week for the subcommittee chairs [to study] and another week for the LBRMO [Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office] to consolidate and one day to file, another day to sponsor [on the floor],” he said.
“That is already December and we will have our period of interpellations and amendments so that’s already December 16 or 14. May bicam [bicameral conference committee] pa, so reenacted din,” he explained.
Senator Sonny Angara agreed, saying that the Senate would not have enough time to deliberate on the budget if the printed copy of the GAB would only arrive on Nov. 5.
“It’s not enough time. ‘Pag Nov. 5 pa makarating dito sa Senado [If it reached the Senate on Nov. 5], the staff will still need at least a week to study and even the [subcommittee chairs] would need time to study it,” Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, said.
Similar to Sotto’s earlier request, Angara called on the Senate leadership to talk to their House counterparts to ensure that the GAB will be submitted at an earlier date.
Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon said aspersions should not be cast upon the House lawmakers.
Instead, he said the Senate should focus on doing its job in making sure the budget is passed on time.
“Some people may cast aspersions…I think we are bigger people than that. I suggest we just go on and continue to discuss our side of the Congress and proceed and try to finish this as much as we can. If the other House wants to play games, we’re not gonna play games, we’re gonna show the people that we can finish this bill,” Gordon said.
“Kung ang laro nila i-delay para sisisihin tayo [If part of their game is to delay in order to blame us], we’re not in that game. We’re not in the blame fixing game, we are in the problem fixing game and I would like to think that we could continue with this in spite of everything,” he added.
INQUIRER.net sought the comment of House appropriations committee chair ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap but has yet to receive a response as of posting.
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