MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the P2.006 trillion national budget for 2013 after the bicameral conference committee approved it. It will now be ready for the president’s signature.
Sen Franklin Drilon, Senate Finance Committee Chairperson, submitted the bicameral conference committee report to the Senate floor, and the chamber approved it with only Sen Joker Arroyo voting against it.
Drilon said the following is the breakdown of the budget in the bicameral conference report:
- Department of Education – P293.332 billion
- Department of Public Works and Highways – P152.400 billion
- Department of National Defense – P121.600 billion
- Department of the Interior and Local Government – P121.120 billion
- Department of Agriculture – P74.100 billion
- Department of Health – P56.800 billion
- Department of Social Welfare and Development – P56.200 billion
- Department of Transporation and Communications – P37.100 billion
- Department of Finance – P33.200 billion
- Department of Environment and Natural Resources – P23.700 billion
The approval came after lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives reconciled their versions of the budget on Wednesday, December 5, at the Shangri-la Hotel in EDSA, Mandaluyong City.
The office of Drilon announced the bicam’s approval of the measure. The senator said the amount remained intact.
Drilon said there were no major changes in the bicam version. The quick approval was expected, with the lawmaker earlier saying there were no major differences in the Senate and House versions.
A minor change was the reduction of P100 million in the first tranche of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel of Sen Panfilo Lacson, who has refused to accept pork barrel over the years.
With the bicam’s approval of the budget, administration allies are set to meet their target of having President Benigno Aquino III sign the budget before the year ends.
“We are confident that on or before December 20, the President should be able to finish reviewing the budget and sign the general appropriations bill,” Drilon said in an earlier statement.
“This will be the third year that the budget will be enacted into law in time for the coming fiscal year,” Drilon added.
In a vote of 14-1, the Senate approved the budget on November 28. Its version was 10.5% higher than this year’s P1.816 trillion. Only Sen Joker Arroyo dissented.
President Aquino certified the budget bill as urgent. The House passed its version last October.
Next battle: Sin tax
Drilon said the budget provides funding for public services, jobs, education and health care.
“The 2013 national budget, once signed into law, will provide for funds to finally close the resource gaps in education system such as the shortage of teachers and educational resources, as well as the lack of enough classrooms,” Drilon said.
Sen Arroyo and other lawmakers though have criticized the speedy passage of the budget, saying they were not given enough time to scrutinize it.
Arroyo said the Senate and the House practically copied the budget proposed by Malacañang.
In explaining his vote, Arroyo said, “All these 3 look alike as if they are Xerox copies. Aren’t we expected to scrutinize and if need be, make changes thereon?”
“It took the Senate only 5 days of passive plenary deliberations, from sponsorship to period of amendments, to complete the debate on P1,368,328,156.00 budget for 2013. In contrast, we spent 2 weeks of heated debate on the P40 billion sin tax measure,” Arroyo said.
Drilon said the quick approval of the budget was expected because “the President enjoys very broad support.” He described the budget as a “tool for empowerment.”
With the budget’s approval, Drilon and the administration are now working on the bicameral conference committee’s approval of another priority measure, the sin tax reform bill.
The Senate version aims to raise an additional P40 billion in revenues from tobacco and alcoholic products while the House targeted P31 billion.
The sin tax bill is more contentious than the budget.
Sin tax reform advocates and the Aquino Cabinet have said that the bill is primarily a health measure, aside from being a revenue bill. Critics though said the government’s target revenue of at least P40 billion is not realistic, and the bill will displace tobacco farmers and worsen smuggling.
Advocates are wary of the insertion of so-called “killer provisions” during bicam.
As of posting time, the bicam is still meeting on reconciling the Senate and House versions of that measure. – Rappler.com