First round win: Alan sides with Ungab on 2020 budget filing

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    SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano has deferred to Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the House committee on appropriation, on how the P4.1-trillion proposed national budget will be handled amid calls to amend the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) to accommodate the requests of some lawmakers for additional congressional allocations.

    Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House committee on ways and means, said the House leadership has agreed to refer the GAB to the appropriations committee on Monday without any amendments.

    Salceda said the decision was reached after Cayetano presided over a meeting with other House leaders on Monday night to resolve the conflict between Ungab and deputy speaker for finance Luis Raymond “LRay” Villafuerte.

    “All’s well that ends well,” Salceda said, dismissing speculations that the issue has caused a crack in the majority bloc. “There’s no crack. On Monday we’ll have the GAB as is where is, that’s the NEP (National Expenditure Program), and that we will approve it by October 5.”

    Salceda said that during the Monday meeting, Cayetano instructed House leaders to move forward with the budget deliberations, file the GAB, as it mirrored the executive’s expenditure program for 2020 and formally refer it to the Ungab committee “so we can go to the plenary (deliberations).”

    “The buck stops at the Speaker,” said Salceda who earlier warned Ungab that Sen. Panfilo Lacson may again use the issue to assail the House of Representatives.

    Ungab said a supplemental budget, if such is approved by the executive department, can be passed to address the requests of some 68 lawmakers for additional congressional allocations.

    He reiterated it will be difficult to include the requests in the GAB because the funding for the proposed 2020 budget is already tight.

    “This is just one of the possible options,” he said in an interview. “We will study how we’ll be able to resolve the concerns.”

    Ungab confirmed deputy speaker Luis Raymond “LRay” Villafuerte’s claim that some congressmen are unhappy with the allocations that their districts received under Malacañang’s 2020 budget proposal.

    Ungab appealed to dissatisfied lawmakers calling for amendments to the GAB to set aside their concerns for now and just work for its future inclusion in the national budget.

    He said that in case some items in the General Appropriations Act are vetoed by the President, the budget may still be tapped to fund a supplemental budget because this remains unappropriated.

    The NEP, which contains the proposed budget for the following year, is submitted to Congress after it is approved by the President.

    Villafuerte last Wednesday moved to have the referral of the bill to the appropriations committee withdrawn and had it referred to the committee on rules on the ground that its filing on first reading was “premature” since some departments and other agencies of the government have yet to finish presenting their respective budget proposals in the committee level.

    The appropriations panel chair later accused Villafuerte of withdrawing House Bill No. 4228 to change the bill to open it to “insertions” or additional congressional allocations for chosen districts.

    Villafuerte reiterated there was no need for the House to shortcut the legislative process on the excuse that it has to pass the GAB soon enough to avoid a repeat of the 2019 budget delay which was caused by allegations of congressional insertions.

    Ungab, a returning lawmaker, said that while he understands his colleagues’ concerns, he would rather have the budget proposal intact because the proposed amendments involves billions.

    “We don’t know where to source the funds and which department the budget will come from. It will hurt the operations of these departments,” he said.

    Ungab said he will still call for a meeting with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to try to find solutions to his colleagues’ concerns.

    On Monday night, Cayetano announced that congressmen were able to sort out the procedural issues that caused friction between Ungab and Villafuerte in a meeting that he presided yesterday afternoon.

    The Speaker requested all departments and agencies to submit the written presentations of their respective budget proposals before 5 p.m. yesterday.

    The rules committee chaired by majority leader Martin Romualdez will refer the 2020 GAB to the committee on appropriations for its consideration.

    Cayetano said the House leadership remains committed to approve the 2020 GAB before Congress goes on recess on the first week of October.