House says it will 'find a way' to transmit 2021 budget to Senate by October 28

The House of Representatives will "find a way" to comply with the Senate's request to have the proposed 2021 budget transmitted to their counterparts in Pasay City by October 28. 

House committee on appropriations chair Eric Yap made this commitment on Friday, October 16, when asked to react to Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III's request to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco for a budget transmittal by October 28

"Pipilitin natin kung 'yun ang gusto ni Senate President," said Yap, whose panel is tasked to scrutinize the proposed P4.5-trillion budget for next year.  (We will find a way if that's what the Senate President wants.)

Yap suggested they can first provide the Senate with the draft version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that the House will send to the National Printing Office (NPO) for final printing after the measure is approved on 3rd reading on Friday.

This way, senators will be able to see the contents of the budget bill while its final version is still being printed.

The ACT-CIS congressman said they would do their best to heed the Senate's request, since he does not want to embarrass the newly installed Speaker. 

"Hindi ko puwedeng ipahiya ang Speaker ko. It will be October 28. But hindi siya 'yung hard copy. Kung ano 'yung sinubmit namin sa NPO (National Printing Office), 'yun 'yung ibibigay namin sa kanila, which is 'yung print lang, 'yung sa white paper lang," said Yap.

(I cannot embarrass my Speaker. It will be October 28. But it won't be the hard copy. Whatever we will be submitting to the NPO, that's what we’re going to give them, which is the one printed on white paper.)

The House was originally targeting to transmit the final version of the GAB to the Senate by November 5. 

This is because it takes the NPO around 10 days to encode and print the multivolume and hardbound copy of the budget bill. 

The House will finish its plenary deliberations on the budget by Friday afternoon, the same day the chamber will approve the GAB on 2nd and 3rd readings. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has already certified the GAB as urgent, allowing lawmakers to skip the mandatory 3-day interval between a bill's 2nd and 3rd readings.

Senators, however, are worried that there would be further delays if the House transmits the budget on November 5, putting the government at risk of operating on a reenacted budget in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Unlike the 2021 budget bill, the 2020 budget is not responsive to the COVID-19 crisis. Reenacting it for the coming year would constrain government efforts to combat the effects of the crippling pandemic. 

Pressure is on for Velasco

The pressure is now on the Velasco-led House to pass the 2021 budget on time.

If the chamber does not pass the budget by 3rd reading on Friday, then Velasco would mark his first week as Speaker with a failed mission.

The power struggle that had gripped the Batasang Pambansa in the past two months – which saw the ouster of Taguig City-Pateros 1st District Representative Alan Peter Cayetano as Speaker and the rise of Velasco to power – had placed the national budget's timely passage under peril. 

Budget debates in the House plenary were in full swing when Cayetano decided on October 6 to railroad its 2nd reading approval, and then suspend session until November 16. This was seen as a ploy to bar Velasco from taking over.

The two were supposed to share terms as Speaker under a deal brokered by the Chief Executive himself.

Angered by Cayetano's maneuvering, Duterte called on Congress to hold a special session from October 13 to 16 so that the House could resume its work on the budget bill.

After Velasco and his allies successfully unseated Cayetano on October 13, the new Speaker immediately undid the plenary stunt of his predecessor and reopened the floor debates on the budget. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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