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House passes P4.5-T nat’l budget earlier stalled by speakership row

The House of Representatives approved on Friday the P4.506 trillion budget for 2021, which the Duterte administration said would provide it with the resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

In nominal voting, 257 House members approved House Bill 7727, or the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), on third and final reading. Only the six members of the Makabayan bloc voted against the bill.

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The vote came at the end of the Oct. 13-16 special session called by President Duterte to prevent a delay in the passage of the spending measure and avert a reenacted budget.

The President called the special session when a leadership dispute between ousted Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the new Speaker, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco, threatened to stall passage of the national budget.

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Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo last week told the Inquirer that a reenacted budget would cost the economy P1.23 trillion in forgone infrastructure spending and P67 billion in unfunded programs to manage the pandemic.

ACT CIS Rep. Eric Yap, House appropriations committee chair, promised to transmit a “soft copy” of the approved budget to the Senate by Oct. 28 so senators would have “a few weeks” to study it.

“They will resume session on Nov. 9, so I would like to put it on record that there is no reason to reenact or delay the budget for fiscal year 2021,” Yap said.

A small committee was created to receive and resolve amendments made by government agencies before the approval of the budget on second reading earlier on Friday.

The committee has until Oct. 19 to do this. It then has another five days after to “encode” the amendments into the final House version of the spending bill before it goes to the National Printing Office for printing.

The committee members are House majority leader Martin Romualdez, House appropriations committee chair Eric Yap, Rep. Michael John Duavit, Rep. Joet Garcia, Rep. Joey Salceda, Rep. Eileen Ermita-Buhain, Rep. Bernadette Herrera Dy, Rep. Sharon Garin, Senior deputy speaker Doy Leachon, Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo, Rep. Edgar Sarmiento, Rep. Luisa Cuaresma, Rep. Edcel Lagman and Quimbo. The last two are representatives of the minority and independents.

The House terminated debates on the budgets of 12 agencies in a marathon session that began at 10 am on Thursday and lasted until past 2 am Friday.

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These agencies were: Department of Education, Department of Tourism, National Security Council, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Commission on Human Rights;

Department of Information and Communications Technology, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Department of Agency, Department of National Defense, Department of Health, and the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

The debates on the budgets of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Congress were concluded on Friday.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he had asked Velasco to transmit the House-approved budget bill to the Senate by Oct. 28, and that Velasco promised his “best effort.”

The Senate decided to resume session on Nov. 9 to tackle the spending bill in plenary and pass it at an earlier date.

In a statement, Yap said the copy to be transmitted to the Senate won’t be a “hard copy” from the National Printing Office, but a copy printed on white bond paper.

“I cannot cause my Speaker to lose face. It will be Oct. 28. But it won’t be a hard copy. Whatever we submit to the NPO (for printing), we will give them (Senate) the same copy, which is just a printed copy on white paper,” he said. “Now, if they (senators) still complain, there’s nothing more I can say to that. I give up, my hands in surrender.”

House senior deputy speaker and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon said Velasco would be transparent in the passage of the budget.

“It’s actually the commitment of the Speaker. That’s the brewing sentiments of the members. That’s why we are taking extra care to see to it that districts are treated fairly depending on their needs,” said Leachon, a Velasco ally.

He added that in the composition of the small committee to review agency-initiated amendments, Velasco wanted to “impress upon the people that the Speaker is always transparent with respect to the passage of the budget.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday reminded House leaders that introducing amendments to the spending bill after its approval on third reading would violate the Constitution.

Senators cannot take up the budget measure in plenary until the House has approved it on third reading and transmitted it to the Senate.

Sotto said that if the Senate received the budget approved by the House “before November, we can most probably approve on third reading by the first week of December.”

“Hopefully, the bicam will not take too long,” he said, referring to the House-Senate conference to reconcile differences between the two versions of the GAB.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, Senate finance committee chair, noted that the Senate would usually need at least a week to prepare the Senate committee report and to start plenary debates.

He noted that Yap earlier said the earlier they could submit the budget to the Senate was Nov. 2 but the lawmakers would look for ways to do it even sooner.

“Perhaps the NPO could take less than 10 days to print the GAB,” he told the Inquirer.

“On the part of the Senate we moved our sessions earlier to ensure there is more time for plenary debates and the bicameral conference this year. And as is the custom we have extended sessions as well from morning to evening for the budget debates,” Angara said.

Former House deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte challenged Velasco “to report to the public the final version of the House-approved version of the 2021 GAB prior to its approval by the bicameral conference committee to ensure that there won’t be any illegal insertions or ‘parking’ of funds as what had happened in the 2019 budget bill.”

“We should remain vigilant and hold Velasco to his avowed commitment of ensuring that there won’t be any redistribution of the funds under the 2021 budget approved by the House,” said Villafuerte, an ally of Cayetano.

In a statement, the lawmaker from Camarines Sur’s 2nd District echoed senators’ fears that last-minute insertions might be made if the House’s transmittal of the bill to the Senate is delayed.

He added that “these suspicions were heightened by reports that former (Camarines Sur 1st District) Rep. Rolando Andaya has been actively participating behind the scenes in the budget deliberations under the newly-installed Velasco speakership.”

He said Andaya was the “architect of the post-bicameral committee insertions in the 2019 budget” which caused its delayed approval and resulted in the reeanactment of the 2018 budget.

“The House, under then-Speaker Gloria Arroyo, realigned around P 75 billion in funds for projects that were eventually vetoed by the President,” he said.

Yap denied Villafuerte’s allegations, saying, “Andaya is not interfering.”

Leachon stressed that there would be no illegal insertions in the 2021 national budget once it is passed on third reading.

“It’s actually the commitment of the Speaker. That’s the growing sentiment of the members, so that is why we need to be careful that districts will be treated fairly according to their needs… That has been clear from the very start,” he told reporters.

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TAGS: 2021 budget, House, House of Representatives, National Budget, speaker, Speakership
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