Budget Watch

Lacson suggests House hold session before November to prevent delay in 2021 budget

JC Gotinga

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Lacson suggests House hold session before November to prevent delay in 2021 budget

The House of Representatives on Friday began its deliberations on the P4.506 trillion proposed national budget for 2021 by opening the proceedings to the public. The move was done under the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter “Compañero” Cayetano who vowed transparency during the deliberations. “We will work closely with the Executive, with the Senate in passing this budget. But also with the media, so that people will be much more informed,” the Speaker said. Committee on Appropriations Chair Rep. Eric Go Yap likewise welcomed the participation of Filipinos in the budget hearings. “I-o-open namin sa public ang budget hearing na ito, at i-involve namin lahat ng Pilipino,” Yap said. Meanwhile, the Development Budget Coordination Committee composed of Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno briefed the House on the proposed 2021 National Expenditure Program entitled “Reset, Rebound, and Recover: Investing for Resilience and Sustainability.” The proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021 is higher by 10 percent than the 2020 budget of P4.1 trillion. It is equivalent to 21.8 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The lion’s share of allocation shall go to social services which should see a budget of P1.66 trillion or 36.9 percent of the proposed budget. These include priority programs for health systems improvement to strengthen the country’s capacity to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Press and Public Affairs Bureau

This would buy the Senate the time it needs to study the voluminous national budget bill before session resumes on November 16, says Senator Panfilo Lacson

The only way the 2021 national budget can be passed on time is if the House of Representatives holds session before November 1 to pass its version of the spending bill, Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Thursday, October 8.

This would give the senators two weeks to study the voluminous 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) before Congress resumes session on November 16.

“I have just suggested to the [House] Speaker, if it’s possible for him to resume their session, which is merely suspended and not adjourned, before All Saints’ Day just to approve on 3rd and final reading the House version of the budget measure and thereafter transmit the same to us,” Lacson said in a statement on Thursday morning.

Lacson said he also told Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that the senators, especially the vice chairpersons who lead Senate finance subcommittees, need at least a week to study the House version of the GAB and come up with reports on the proposed budgets of the agencies assigned to them.

The Senate finance committee would then need another week to consolidate these subcommittee reports and come up with its main report – the version that would be the basis of plenary debates.

If the House passes its version of the GAB on 3rd and final reading before November 1, it would buy the Senate time to go through the two-week process Lacson described, before Congress comes out of its scheduled monthlong break from session.

“In so doing, we can start floor debates immediately after we resume session on November 16, or even before that,” Lacson said.

“That is the only way we can ensure the timely passage of the budget measure. We cannot afford an impasse involving the most important piece of legislation that Congress has to pass: the national budget, which I have consistently regarded as the lifeblood of our economy, if not our country,” he added.

The senator belied Cayetano’s claim that the House’s premature suspension of session on Tuesday, October 6, and consequent postponement of its 3rd and final reading of the GAB, only pushed the budget process back by one day.

Congress – the Senate and the House – was originally scheduled to suspend session from October 15 to November 15.

“Between October 12 and 14 – when the Senate is originally scheduled to receive the transmittal of the General Appropriations Bill from the House of Representatives – and November 17 – when the Speaker said they will be able to transmit the same to us – is definitely not a one-day difference as claimed by Speaker Cayetano,” Lacson said.

Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that the House’s move in effect delayed the budget process by a full month.

However, Cayetano insisted that his suspension of the House session more than a week earlier than the scheduled October 15 break only makes a day’s difference on the Senate’s timeline. Instead of taking the GAB up in plenary on November 16, the Senate would just have to do so on November 17 instead. This is because the House plans to pass the GAB on 3rd and final reading on November 16.

Lacson, Sotto and fellow senators Sonny Angara and Joel Villanueva earlier pointed out that Cayetano’s view disregards the two-week process between the Senate’s receipt of the House version of the GAB and the start of plenary debates.

If the Senate receives the House version of the budget bill on November 16 or 17, it could only begin plenary debates at the end of the month, which would take another two weeks, the senators said.

By the time the Senate passes its version of the GAB, there would be too little time left for the bicameral conference with the House to reconcile differences in their versions of the bill, ratification, and submission to Malacañang for study before the President either signs or vetoes it, they added.

Lacson on Wednesday, October 7, said the House’s move made it “impossible” for the Senate to finish the 2021 budget bill on time, so the 2020 budget is “good as reenacted” for next year.

He added that the House decision to pushing back its passage of the GAB was “not a good judgment call” because it jeopardized the national budget over House members’ “squabble” for the speakership.

In suspending session more than a week ahead of schedule, Cayetano and his allies in the House effectively barred his rival Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco from attempting to take over the speakership on the supposed appointed date, October 14.

Cayetano and Velasco earlier agreed to a “term-sharing” arrangement for the House’s top spot, but Cayetano has refused to cede his post unless Velasco shores up support from the House majority.

With the House now on break from plenary session, Velasco would have no venue to stage a takeover, should he plan to do so, until November 16. – 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.