Budget Watch

Lacson: Cayetano proposal won’t do, Senate needs House-approved 2021 budget bill sooner

JC Gotinga

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Lacson: Cayetano proposal won’t do, Senate needs House-approved 2021 budget bill sooner

Budget proposals of PDEA and DBB: Sen. Panfilo Lacson presides over Tuesday, September 29, 2020, the Committee on Finance Subcommittee C hybrid hearing on the proposed P344.5 million budget of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DBB) and the P2.75 billion of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for 2021. (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

'Why do they have to wait for November 16 to approve the budget on 3rd and final reading? I can’t understand any of this,' says Senator Panfilo Lacson about the House of Representatives

The Senate will need the version of the 2021 national budget bill approved by the House of Representatives sooner rather than later, Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Friday, October 9.

He added that the House Speaker’s promise to send senators “proposed copies” of the bill will not suffice, either.

This, after Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano tried to appease senators, who had said the House’s early suspension of session would delay the budget process by a full month.

“How can the Senate accept a printed copy of an unapproved House version of the budget bill, as proposed by Speaker Cayetano? We can only file a committee report once the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) is transmitted to us after it has been approved on 3rd and final reading [by the House],” Lacson said in a statement.

“Why do they have to wait for November 16 to approve the budget on 3rd and final reading? I can’t understand any of this,” Lacson added.

The Senate aims to scrutinize the voluminous 2021 GAB – the version approved on 3rd and final reading by the House – when Congress goes on break on October 15 to November 15. This way, senators hope to take the bill straight to plenary when session resumes on November 16.

However, Cayetano moved to suspend session at the House on Tuesday, October 6, without having passed the 2021 GAB on 3rd and final reading. If the House does not reopen session during the break, the soonest it can put the bill up for 3rd reading would be on November 16.

Delayed by a month

Senators, including Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, complained that Cayetano’s move would effectively delay their work by a month, because then, they would only begin studying the GAB on or after November 16, when the House would have finally passed it.

Cayetano, however, denied this, insisting the Senate’s timeline would be delayed by only a day – it would receive the GAB on November 17 instead of on the 16th. The senators took exception to this, pointing out that their work on the bill would have begun on October 15, as the House was originally scheduled to pass it on 3rd reading on October 14.

On Thursday, October 8, Lacson said he suggested to Cayetano that the House hold session before November 1 to pass its version of the budget bill on 3rd and final reading. This is to buy the Senate two weeks to study the House-approved GAB before session resumes on November 16. That way, the bill could go straight to plenary as soon as Congress reopens session.

Following criticism from the senators, Cayetano on Thursday “promised to submit by November 5 their proposed copies of the different budget books, therefore the GAB, which they will approve on 3rd reading,” Sotto told reporters.

Sotto said Cayetano’s proposal would be helpful to the Senate, especially to Senate finance committee chief Senator Sonny Angara.

Lacson insisted that printed copies of an “unapproved House version of the budget bill” would not do, because senators need to base all their work on the House’s final and approved version of the measure.

“Our priority in the Senate remains the same – to pass on time a national budget that will allow us to deal with the effects of the pandemic. This includes scrutinizing the budget bill to make sure huge sums are not lost to incompetence or greed,” said Lacson.

‘One credit I would give the President’

The senator earlier said it was inevitable to see the possible delay in the budget process as a result of the speakership “squabble” at the House.

Cayetano’s move to suspend session at the House a week ahead of schedule deprived his rival, Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco, of a venue to stage a possible takeover of the top spot on October 14 – supposedly the date set for a handover.

Cayetano and Velasco earlier agreed to a “term-sharing” arrangement for the speakership, but Cayetano has refused to cede his post unless Velasco could shore up support from a majority of House members.

Lacson said the House’s move was “not a good judgment call,” and with the delay it caused in the legislative calendar, the 2020 national budget is “good as reenacted” for next year, or at least in its first several weeks.

On Thursday, Duterte delivered a public address warning Congress to solve the delay in the budget process, which he attributed to the speakership tussle.

The President said he would intervene should lawmakers fail to resolve their impasse.

“This is one credit I would give to the President. As the leader of the coalition of political parties in the House of Representatives, I don’t think there is impropriety if he steps in to resolve the impasse between conflicting groups that are both his allies anyway. A few calls to the leaders of those coalitions can simplify matters,” Lacson said on Friday.

“It is the President’s option to do whatever is necessary, even taking a ‘direct’ hand in resolving the speakership issue, with the timely passage of the 2021 national budget as his only consideration. After all, anything that has to do with national interest should involve the President,” Lacson added. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.