Budget Watch

House transmits 2021 budget bill to Senate ahead of October 28 deadline

Mara Cepeda
House transmits 2021 budget bill to Senate ahead of October 28 deadline

Newly elected House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco presides over the session at the Plenary Hall of the House of Representatives on October 13, 2020.

Photo by Pino Arcenas/Rappler

(UPDATED) Speaker Lord Allan Velasco insists the House's approval of the 2021 budget is constitutional even if lawmakers introduced amendments after passing it on final reading

The House of Representatives submitted to the Senate a copy of the proposed 2021 budget on Tuesday, October 27, a day ahead of senators’ requested transmittal date.

House transmits 2021 budget bill to Senate ahead of October 28 deadline

“The House of Representatives is transmitting today the approved copy of the P4.506-trillion 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) to the Senate one day ahead of the promised date,” Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said in a statement. 

Velasco’s staff said the House will transmit a soft copy of the 2021 budget to the Senate within the day. 

At past 4:40 pm, the staff of Senate committee on finance chair Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara told reporters that senators formally received the copy of the GAB from their counterparts at the Batasang Pambansa. The House transmitted both hard and soft copies of the 2021 budget to the Senate.

This version already includes P20 billion worth of institutional amendments that was vetted and approved last week by the small committee that Velasco formed to finalize legislators’ proposed changes under the 2021 budget.

These include the following:

  • P5.5 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine once available for mass use
  • P4 billion for the Department of Labor and Employment to give assistance to displaced workers
  • P2 billion for pandemic assistance to afflicted families
  • P2 billion for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program of the Department of Health (DOH)
  • P2 billion for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ acquisition of C-130 airplanes
  • P2 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to mobilize the assets of the Philippine National Police
  • P1.7 billion for the Department of Education to address the internet needs of schools amid the distance learning scheme
  • P400 million for the Philippine National Oil Company’s development of renewable energy
  • P300 million for the DOH’s mental health programs
  • P100 million for the modernization of the Energy Regulatory Commission

But final amendments can only be officially applied to the 2021 budget once it reaches the bicameral conference committee, which will be convened after the GAB passes through the Senate. 

This is because the House had passed the 2021 budget on final reading without any amendments on October 16

Article VI, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution states, “Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed.” (READ: Senators say ‘unconstitutional’ for House to amend 2021 budget after passage)

But Velasco insists the House’s 3rd reading approval of the budget and their subsequent introduction of amendments is aboveboard.

“Not only did we pass the proposed 2021 national budget in a timely, constitutional, and legal manner, we also made sure next year’s spending plan will be more reflective and responsive to the needs of the people amid the worst public health crisis in a generation,” the Speaker said.

House members were in a race against time to approve the 2021 budget by October 16 since President Rodrigo Duterte did not want its passage to be derailed by the months-long power struggle between Velasco and his rival, Taguig City-Pateros 1st District Representative Alan Peter Cayetano.

In a bid to block Velasco from taking over the speakership, Cayetano had suspended session at the House on October 6 instead of on October 14. It effectively pushed back the budget bill’s final reading and passage by a month.

Senators and House members alike warned Cayetano’s maneuvering could prevent the 2021 GAB from being ratified and enacted on time, and force the government to reenact the 2020 national budget for next year instead.

Duterte then called on Congress to hold a special session, forcing the House to reconvene from October 13 to 16.  Backed by majority of House members already turned off by Cayetano, Velasco replaced ousted his rival as Speaker on October 13. (READ: INSIDE STORY: Cayetano’s hubris turns Batasan into the House of Lord)

Velasco then led marathon plenary hearings in the House to pass the budget according to schedule. He also formed a small committee to finalize the House’s proposed amendments to the 2021 budget.

But senators argued introducing amendments after a bill’s 3rd reading approval was unconstitutional.

Still, Senator Panfilo Lacson thanked the House for passing the budget on time as it gave the Senate enough time to do its work to also scrutinize the GAB. – 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.