House urges Senate: Approve 2020 budget this month

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    BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA

    SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday urged senators to finish their budget deliberations this month so bicameral meetings can be scheduled by the first week of December.

    “Well, we’re praying and we’re also urging Senate President (Vicente) Sotto (III) and Sen. (Juan Edgardo) Angara if they could finish it by the end of the month so that we can hold the bicam by the first week of December,” Cayetano told dzMM.

    Cayetano said he was hoping that the budget will be sent to the President earlier than the usual schedule which is the end of December.

    “The earlier this is signed, the earlier our LGUs can plan and the private sector would see what the government’s plans and it would be better for the country,” he said.

    Cayetano said Congress might be pressed for time if the bicameral meetings between congressmen and senators will be held between December 15 and 18 because it is too close to Christmas and New Year.

    “If we can pass it by the end of this month and there’s a problem, you (still) have another one to two weeks. If there’s no problem, then in three to four days we can finish it,” he said.

    Senate majority floor leader Juan Miguel Zubiri has earlier said plenary sponsorship of the proposed budget is scheduled on November 11, while plenary debates are set from November 11 to 15 and November 18 to 22.

    On November 22, the budget is expected to be approved on second and third reading, and bicameral panel discussions are expected to be held from November 25 to 30.

    Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto said the actual 2020 proposed national budget is P4.316 trillion, which is P216.3 billion higher than the commonly stated proposed national budget of P4.1 trillion.

    In a statement, Recto said the proposed national budget for next year can be broken down into two: the “programmed” part which is P4.1 trillion and which can be defined as funded appropriation, and the “unprogrammed” which is conditioned on the availability of funds.

    Recto said the amount of P216.3 billion represents the “unprogrammed appropriations (UA).”

    “Thus, P4.316 trillion is the implied ceiling of the proposed 2020 budget. Once the latter becomes law, it confers standby authority to the executive to spend it, provided conditions are met,” Recto said.

    “But the UA is also plagued by lack of transparency. It is not your ideal itemized section of the budget. Rather, large amounts are placed in generic boxes whose specifics lack elaboration,” he added.

    Recto said the biggest item in the UA is P90.4 billion for “support to foreign assisted projects.”

    “Kung para saan ito, hindi idinetalye sa National Expenditure Program (NEP). Parang cheke na may amount pero walang particulars (This is not detailed in the NEP. It is like a check with a written amount on it but without particulars,” he said.

    The next biggest amount in the UA is P61.9 billion in “budgetary support to GOCCs with no itemization, followed by the P30 billion for risk management programs” which Recto said was “reserved for government commitments and agreements related to public-private partnership programs but the names of which are, again, not specified.”

    Recto said some projects under the UA are itemized and are beneficial to the people, including the P5.4 billion for Health Facilities Enhancement Program, the P5 billion for the Bangsamoro Normalization Program, P5 billion for AFP Modernization, P2.4 billion for the National ID Project, P1.2 billion payment for loans to local government units, and P2 billion as loan payment to previous IT contractor in the Land Transportation Office.

    “My point is that these particulars should be openly declared in the NEP and not swept under innocuously-worded headings. Because these involve large amounts, I would raise this issue during the plenary debates so whatever good they will bring will be conveyed to the public who will pay for them,” Recto said.

    Cayetano said the House, which has institutional amendments worth P9.5 billion, is still waiting for the Senate’s own proposed changes, especially since many senators have made promises to fund some projects during the last campaign period.

    “Don’t tell me, for example, that those who went around the province of Bohol and saw the unfinished rehabilitation center did not promise to fund it. So that’s the reality. What we removed was the opportunity for corruption by lump sum pork barrel,” he said.

    He said the House leadership was able to convince congressmen not to introduce individual amendments anymore since the budget per district has already increased because of the Build, Build, Build projects.

    Cayetano reiterated his earlier claim that the lowest amount allocated for each district under the National Expenditure Program (NEP) is around P500 million, including funds from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

    He said the different provisions will be ironed out in the bicameral level but it will no longer be needed if the Senate will adopt the House version.

    Cayetano however said this is unlikely to happen because it will be like surrendering to the House the Senate’s power to scrutinize the budget.

    “Whether it will be very similar to what (version) we have now or not, I really doubt it’ll be very similar because I think there’s between P50 to P100 billion worth of amendments because of agencies like CHED and DepEd, among others,” he said.