House OKs 2020 budget on final reading

Mara Cepeda
House OKs 2020 budget on final reading
The progressive Makabayan lawmakers, however, blast the lack of transparency in the swift approval of the 2020 budget

MANILA, Philippines – The House leadership kept its word to pass the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020 two weeks ahead of its original deadline.

On Friday, September 20, a total of 257 legislators approved House Bill No. 4228 or the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) on 3rd and final reading just minutes after the plenary passed the measure on second reading. 

Only 6 lawmakers opposed, while no one abstained from voting. 

The House gave its thumbs-up to the 2020 GAB after holding 9 straight session days – with some sessions lasting for 10 hours – for the plenary debates on the budget. 

This is the first time under President Rodrigo Duterte’s term that the GAB breezed through its 2nd and 3rd readings in the House. This process has only been done by the House twice in the past: on October 9, 2015, under the Aquino administration, and on October 13, 2006, under the Arroyo presidency. 

The approval of the 2020 budget came just two days after it was revealed that each legislator would be entitled to at least P100 million to allot for their pet projects next year’s budget.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano initially targeted for the House to pass the 2020 GAB by October 4, when the 18th Congress will adjourn for a month-long break. 

But Duterte certifying the 2020 GAB as urgent gave authority to Congress to pass the measure on 2nd and 3rd reading on the same day. 

By fast-tracking the passage of the 2020 budget, the House plenary also skipped the crucial period of amendments, the time when legislators introduce and object motions to realign funds under the national budget to either increase or decrease allocations for a certain government agency.  

The House leadership instead formed a small committee – composed of lawmakers from both the majority and minority blocs – which will “judiciously consider” all the proposed amendments that their colleagues will be submitting to them in the coming days.  

This means the promises made by several legislators to increase the funds of several government agencies are still not reflected in the 3rd reading-approved version of the 2020 budget.

This includes the proposed P2-billion increase in the budget of the Department of Agriculture so it can buy more palay stocks from rice farmers amid the plummeting prices of rice. 

The small committee is expected to submit the final list of the House’s proposed amendments to the bicameral conference committee, where congressmen and senators are expected to further thresh out the amendments of the respective chambers.

But Section 25, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution bars Congress from making other amendments to a bill that has already been passed on 3rd reading.

“Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal,” read Section 25

Lack of budget transparency hit

Progressive Makabayan lawmakers, however, opposed the swift passage of the 2020 budget.  

In his turno en contra against the 2020 GAB, Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate said the proposed budget reflects the abusive policies the Duterte administration continues to implement, like the bloody drug war.

“Sinusuhayan ng panukalang badyet 2020 ang madugong track record ng administrasyong Duterte sa pamamaslang. Ito ay pag-igting sa giyera laban sa droga, sa anti-insurhensya, sa paglabag sa karapatang pantao, at pagsugpo umano sa kriminalidad,” said the Bayan Muna congressman in his speech.

(The proposed 2020 budget shows the bloody track record of the Duterte administration that kills. These include the intensification of the war on drugs, anti-insurgency efforts, human rights violations, and the supposed eradication of criminality.)

“Sa maikli: Kami ay tutol sa budget na para sa pagpatay, sa pagsikil sa karapatan ng mamamayan, at ang budget na batbat ng pondong pork barrel,” he added.

(In short: We are against the budget that kills, tramples on the rights of the people, and the budget that is riddled with pork barrel funds.)

In an earlier press conference, Zarate said the 2020 budget also goes to show the House remains subservient to Malacañang.

“Hindi ito maganda sa ating budget process, lalong higit na nanumbalik na naman ‘yong usapin ng pork barrel…. Kabahagi pa rin ito, part and parcel pa rin ito ng patronage system para gawing sunud-sunuran ang Kongreso sa gusto ng Malacañang,” said Zarate in a press conference. 

(This is not a good budget process, especially when talks about pork barrel has returned…. This is still part and parcel of the patronage system that makes Congress subservient to the whims of Malacañang.)

Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative France Castro also argued this process lacks transparency, especially when legislators dedicated hours interpellating different government agencies – from the budget hearings to the plenary debates in the past weeks.

“Bakit ito kina-cut short, shino-short cut? Balewale din ‘yong pagpupuyat na binubisisi kada isang ahensiya ng gobyerno sa budget niya,” said Castro. 

(Why are they cutting short the process? They have essentially disregarded the sleepless nights we spent scrutinizing the budget of every government agency.) 

“Kami sa Makabayan, ang dami naming nakitang discrepancy, misappropriation sa budget, cuts sa social service…. Gusto natin ma-undergo ‘yong tamang process,” she added. 

(We in Makabayan saw a lot of discrepancies, misappropriations, and cuts in social services under the budget…. We wanted the right process to happen here.)

Makabayan legislators earlier proposed to realign the proposed P4.5 billion in confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the President to basic services and assistance to drug war victims. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.