‘Responsive’ 2021 national budget transmitted to Senate

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    THE House of Representatives yesterday transmitted to the Senate its version of the P4.506 trillion proposed national budget for 2021, which included a P20 billion “institutional amendments” and departmental errata which Sen. Panfilo Lacson has said were “illegal” insertions.

    As his first major act as the leader of the House, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco signed the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) a day ahead of the October 28 target.

    “This record-high budget was designed to further strengthen government response and stimulate economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only did we pass the proposed 2021 national budget in a timely, constitutional and legal manner, we also made sure next year’s spending plan will be more reflective and responsive to the needs of the people amid the worst public health crisis in a generation,” Velasco said in a statement.

    The Speaker said the House increased the allocation for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines by more than three times to cover more citizens and also provided extra allocation for the facilities enhancement program of the Department of Health (DOH) to help improve the country’s health care system.

    The House version of the budget also has additional funding for the Department of Labor and Employment to aid workers displaced by COVID-19 and for the Department of Social Welfare and Development for another round of financial assistance to families affected by the pandemic.

    A small House committee tasked to review proposed amendments to the GAB has rejected all individual amendments of lawmakers to insulate the institution from allegations of “pork barrel” insertions.

    The panel led by majority leader Martin Romualdez and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, who chairs the appropriations panel, only accepted a total of P20 billion “institutional amendments” and departmental errata, a move which Lacson said was unconstitutional since it was done after the budget was already approved on final reading.

    The budget bill had been caught in the middle of the speakership fight between Velasco and Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano who was accused of holding the budget hostage to stop Velasco from wresting power.

    The deliberations on the budget was put on hold after the House prematurely suspended the session amid the plans of Velasco’s camp to insist on his term-sharing agreement with Cayetano.

    The ouster move, however, was ignited by allegations that Cayetano’s clique had cornered a huge part of next year’s infrastructure budget.

    By expense class, the biggest chunk of the 2021 budget which comprises 29.2 percent or P1.32 trillion, will go to personnel services to allow government to hire more health workers, including contact tracers, to improve its response in addressing the pandemic.

    This level considers the huge additional hiring of health workers under the Human Resource for Health Program of the DOH, the second tranche implementation of the Salary Standardization Law of 2019, and the increased pension requirements of military and uniformed personnel.

    Capital outlays will come in second with P920.5 billion, accounting for 20.4 percent of the proposed budget and growing by 12.9 percent.

    The increase in capital outlays from this year’s budget is owed mainly to the increase in infrastructure programs of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH, 14.7 percent) and Department of Transportation (DOTr, 42.6 percent), the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said.

    Maintenance, operating and other expenditures (MOOE) will amount to P699.4 billion, debt burden with P560.2 billion, support to government-owned and-controlled corporations with P157.5 billion, and tax expenditures with P14.5 billion.

    By sector, a bulk of next year’s proposed budget will be provided to the social services sector amounting to P1.664 trillion, equivalent to 36.9 percent.

    This includes funding support for programs related to health, social protection, and education. The economic services sector will receive the second highest allocation with P1.347 trillion or 29.9 percent of the proposed budget.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the early transmission of the House’s version of the proposed 2021 national budget transmit a day earlier than promised will give senators more time to pass the Senate version of the budget in time.

    “Regardless of the constitutional issues involving the House of Representatives’ version of the 2021 budget bill, it is still good that the Senate has enough time to approve our own version, leaving room for the bicameral conference and submission to the President for approval, thus avoiding a re-enacted budget,” Lacson said in a statement.

    As part of the Senate’s budget preparations, Lacson said that as finance committee sub-chairman, he has already submitted on Monday afternoon all reports under his sub-committee to the office of Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara who is the chairman of the Senate finance committee in compliance with the deadline set, which was October 26.

    “However, I based my report on the National Expenditure Program, with a caveat that necessary adjustments will be made once the General Appropriations Bill is transmitted by the House. Now that the GAB is available as reported, once we get hold of our copy, I’ll make adjustments based on the House version of the budget bill,” he said. – With Raymond Africa