Senate kicks off plenary debates on 2020 budget

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    THE Senate opens its plenary debates today on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 as senators get busy to scrutinize the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) transmitted by the House of Representatives.

    Committee on finance chairman Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who will sponsor the budget this afternoon, said the Senate is on track in its timetable for the approval of the GAB, which it hopes to send to President Duterte by the middle or third week of December.

    Angara underscored the importance of passing the 2020 national budget on time, especially in light of the adverse impact to the economy of the delayed approval of the 2019 General Appropriations Act over issues of institutional amendments or congressional insertions during the ratification of the bicameral version of the measure.

    The country was on the brink of missing its growth target for the year because of the delay. But with the aggressive catch up spending implemented by some key agencies, the economy grew by 6.2 percent and is on pace to hit its full-year target of 6 percent to 7 percent.

    “So critical is the GAA. In fact because we failed to pass it on time during the previous budget cycle, the country paid a price. One adverse impact was a slower GDP growth rate in the first half of the year. Another was that construction and repairs of thousands of classrooms were delayed, as were tuition fees of thousands of government scholars across the country,” Angara said.

    He said there were also opportunity losses in terms of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the construction, public administration and defense, wholesale and retail trade, land transport and education sectors as a result of the government operating on a reenacted 2018 budget for the first four months of the year.

    “Indeed, it would have helped many Filipinos in their struggle against poverty if the government’s poverty reduction efforts weren’t derailed,” Angara said.

    But in an interview last Saturday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he sees a delay in the passage of the 2020 proposed national budget if their House counterparts insist on their plan to allegedly realign P100 billion during the bicameral conference committee.

    If the HOR plan pushes through, the early passage will be stalled as the senators will scrutinize the proposed national budget before it is sent to Malacañang for the President’s approval.

    Lacson said the HOR has still been accepting amendments through a “small group committee” even as the House version of the budget has long been approved on third and final reading.

    He said this was the primary reason why he wanted that the bicameral discussions be made open to the public.

    He said the bicam is convened so both the House and Senate can iron out differing provisions in the proposed budget and not make any individual insertions.

    “Doon makikita ang wala akong maisip na word kundi malevolent and sneaky. Sneaky rin kasi bakit kailangan itago sa plenaryo ang pag-submit ng individual amendment at di isama sa isasubmit sa Senado? Magkakaroon ng contention pagdating sa BCC, ang BCC hindi open sa lahat na member. Pagdating sa BCC kung sino lang designated member ng BCC makarinig doon. (I can only describe the act as malevolent and sneaky. Sneaky in the sense that why do they have to hide in the plenary if they will introduce individual amendments? It should have been included in the House version submitted to the Senate.

    There will be contention when the bicameral conference committee convenes. The BCC is not open to all the members of the House and Senate and only the designated members have the chance to witness what’s happening,” Lacson said.

    He recalled that during the 2019 budget deliberations, the HOR still made amendments even after the bicam has already approved the proposed budget.

    “Nangyari na ‘yan for 2019 budget, kaya na-delay. Mas masama ang ginawa roon, tapos na bicam, ratified na, nang nag-print sila ng enrolled bill, naiba ang na-ratify naming pinagusapan pati sa BCC. Mabuti na lang ang sinulat ni SP Sotto, in-adopt ng PRRD kaya veto niya ang P95B. Ito P100B pinaguusapan natin. (That has already happened in the 2019 budget that’s why its approval was delayed. The bicam already ratified the proposed budget, but there were still changes made when the enrolled (budget) bill was being printed. It’s good that Senate President (Vicente) Sotto (III) wrote a letter to the President that’s why he (president) vetoed P95 billion in the 2019 national budget. But for next year’s budget, we are talking of P100 billion),” Lacson said.

    Lacson said he will grill on Tuesday the Department of Budget and Management on the P20 billion “parked” funds, of which P2 billion was earmarked for the National Greening Program.

    “Bakit wala tayong nakikitang puno, taon-taon P2 billion, minsan umaabot ng P4 billion?

    Saan tinatanim ‘yan ? Nagtatanim mga social clubs like Rotary… Baka puwedeng tigilan itong NGP kasi wala tayong nakikitang program. (Kung) agreeable siya, that’s another P2 billion na puede natin alisin (Why can’t we see trees with the yearly budget of P2 billion for the National Greening Program, and at certain times it reaches P4 billion? Where do they plant the trees? Social clubs like the Rotary are the ones planting trees. Maybe we can do away with this amount because we have seen any tree planting program. If the DBM is agreeable, that’s another P2 billion that we can strike off the proposed budget),” Lacson added.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said the Senate might just adopt the House version of the budget, thus a bicam will not be convened anymore, and individual amendments can be prevented.

    But Sotto’s proposal did not sit well for a number of senators since they, too, have signified that they will introduce a number of amendments in the proposed national budget for 2020.