Certifying 2024 budget bill as urgent will only hasten debates – solon
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s move to certify the proposed 2024 national budget as urgent is obviously meant to bypass or fast-track important congressional debates.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro made this assertion on Thursday, noting that in the past, congressional debates at the plenary level took at least 10 days – more than the seven days scheduled by the House committee on appropriations.
Plenary debates on the proposed P5.768 trillion spending plan for next year, otherwise known as the Fiscal Year 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) contained in House Bill No. 8980, started Tuesday, September 19.
According to the appropriations panel senior vice chairperson and Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, they plan to approve the 2024 GAB on third reading by Wednesday, September 27.
“May urgency ba? Next year pa naman kailangan ang 2024 budget. (Mas que) naman i-certify ito ngayon hindi pa naman magagamit agad-agad. Ang magagawa lang ng certification ay ratsadahin ang debates na maikli na nga in the first place para mapagtakpan ang hindi tamang paggastos sa pera ng bayan,” Castro said.
(Is there an urgency? The 2024 budget is still needed next year. Even if it’s certified now, it will not be available immediately. All the certification can do is expedite the debates, which are already short in the first place, to cover up the improper spending of public money.)
“There was a time that committee briefings and pre-plenary [are] over four weeks, then 15 days of plenary, but now it is reduced to just 11 days of committee briefings and seven days of plenary. Add to this the much abused ‘parliamentary courtesy’ as well as extremely limited time to propound questions, and you have a national budget that was barely scrutinized by Congress,” she added.
The lawmaker issued the remarks a day after Marcos certified as urgent the national budget bill in a purported bid to make sure government funds will be available at the start of 2024.
Marcos’ action allows the House to disregard the requirement of waiting for three session days before a bill passed on a second reading is considered for a third reading.
This also means the House can go on with the debates and then approve the GAB on the second and third reading on the same day. If the budget is passed before Congress’ session goes on a recess by September 30, they can transmit it to the Senate for deliberation at the committee level during the break.
Castro’s office shared a schedule table during the 16th Congress led by former speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte. It showed that plenary deliberations for the 2014 and 2015 national budgets lasted 10 days, and for the 2016 national budget, 15 days.
Her office also noted that since the 17th Congress, plenary debates on the government’s spending plan did not last up to 10 session days except for the 2021 national budget.
Castro’s office further pointed out that in the 19th Congress, the House of Representatives under the helm of the President’s cousin – Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez – only held plenary debates for the 2023 national budget in just seven days.
President Marcos Jr. assumed office on June 30, 2022. His administration has its first full-year budget this 2023.
“It is no wonder that many people think that the budget deliberations have been reduced to a venue to make vague, convoluted and even conflicting explanations on how the people’s money was spent on activities that are not part of their mandate and even ask for more funds for it,” Castro asserted.
“It is the House of Representatives’ duty to scrutinize the budget and ensure that every centavo spent is legal, above board and for the best interest of the Filipino people. We are not the shield of the executive against transparency and accountability. It is only by doing this duty and standing with those they supposedly represent will Congress counter the allegation that it is a rubber stamp of Malacañang,” she added.
The current House leadership has repeatedly assured the speedy approval of the 2024 GAB while aiming for balance and transparency in the budget process. With reports from Jezvette Kyelle Mapagdalita, trainee