Big-budget infra projects lose funding in 2021 budget

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    THE bicameral conference committee merging the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) versions of the Senate and the House of Representatives has reallocated funds appropriated for new infrastructure projects to priority measures that will enhance the government’s health and disaster response capabilities.

    ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said this Tuesday as he announced that the bicameral panel is set to meet for the last time today to iron out minor kinks in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

    Yap said the final version of the budget bill maybe ratified today if revisions that he and Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, have proposed are approved by majority of the members of the bicameral group.

    Yap could not provide reporters yet with a full report on the changes made to the proposed infrastructure allocations of districts but said the panel reallocated funds to projects that can be implemented in 2021.

    “Our priority is projects that can be finished next year. New projects with huge budgets will not be finished so we reallocated it to other priorities such as Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), hospitals and equipment to improve our COVID-19 response,” Yap said.

    Yap said the bicameral panel also increased allocations for the rehabilitation of calamity-hit areas, especially Cagayan after consulting with local government units (LGUs) and congressmen.

    He said the panel also prioritized conditional cash transfers to continue helping indigent families amid the economic hardships brought about by the pandemic.

    The congressman had denied earlier claims made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson that the districts of some congressmen were given bigger allocations because of their closeness to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

    Yap said the budget for the infrastructure projects of some districts are bigger than others because these are “big-ticket” projects that are national in scope like in Benguet, of which Yap is the legislative caretaker.

    There is an P8 billion allocation in the province under the House-approved version of the budget for the construction of some infrastructure projects, such as a circumferential road.

    Yap said congressmen and senators will hold another bicameral meeting today to finalize a few details of the budget bill before coming up with a report on the final version.

    “After that, we’ll close the bicam deliberations and release a report. Later in the day, it will be ratified by both Houses (of Congress),” he said.

    He said Congress might be able to transmit the final version of the GAB to Malacañang before Christmas for President Duterte’s signature.

    Yap said lawmakers will need another seven to 10 days to have the voluminous committee report printed out before they can be sent to the Palace for the President’s signature.

    He said Congress will do its best to have to document printed and transmitted to the Executive before December 18, before Congress goes on a Holiday break “but if not, we’ll have it done on December 21.”