Solon: Small panel created for faster budget process

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    A leader of the House of Representatives yesterday said the creation of a small panel to screen proposed individual amendments to the General Appropriations Bill was necessary to facilitate the faster approval of the national expenditure measure.

    Deputy speaker Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales, who was a majority leader in the 16th Congress under the Aquino administration, insisted the plenary is empowered to create and task the small committee despite the budget approval on third reading last September 20 “to process some adjustments it deemed necessary.”

    “The small panel helps us not to go to the rigors of individual amendments of every congressman. It is not only valid, legal and constitutional, it is also practical and judicious to safeguard the national programs by regulating parochial concerns,” Gonzales said.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson last week said the House’s move to create a small committee to entertain individual amendments to the GAB after its third and final approval was “anomalous” because it did not conform to the regular budget process stated in the Constitution.

    After the third reading approval, Lacson said, “the next step should be (the) bicameral conference committee (when) both houses meet to reconcile the disagreeing provisions.”

    Article VI, Section 26 of the Constitution states that: “Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal.”

    No lawmaker, including those from the opposition and the Left-leaning Makabayan bloc, rose to question the House’s move when the plenary voted to form a small committee to process the individual amendments which are normally introduced before the final reading approval.

    “Imagine if you allow 300 lawmakers to introduce amendments in the plenary, do you think we can still approve the national budget? They will also introduce more parochial concerns because we have constituents to serve. The small committee is there to accept and reject the individual amendments for inclusion to the printed copy of the national budget,” Gonzales said.

    Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, a senior vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations, appealed to the Senate to observe inter-parliamentary courtesy “and allow us to do our work first.”

    “Their turn to scrutinize the budget bill will come when we formally transmit to them the printed copy of the 2020 GAB on October 1,” he said.

    Salceda said delegating to a small committee some of the duties that the plenary could otherwise perform “is a practice that has been done in the past years, as far back as the 8th Congress, when the House deliberates on the GAB.”

    “If we are to refresh the public’s memory, this is not the first time that the creation of a small committee was resorted to. This is for facility and for practical purposes. Not all 300 Members of the House of Representatives can sit down together and finalize all the amendments to the bill,” Salceda said.

    He said what is of “paramount importance” is that the plenary authorized the small committee to receive and resolve the amendments.

    The House acted quickly in passing the 2020 budget because it cannot afford another delay since the government already lost P77 billion a month for the first six months of 2019 because of the delay in the passage of this year’s budget which the President was only able to sign last April.

    The 2019 budget was not passed on time by the previous Congress after the leadership of then Speaker Gloria Arroyo found billions in alleged insertions made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

    The issue then involved some P90 billion in inserted projects that were not known to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) led to the delayed passage of the 2019 budget early this year which forced the government to operate on a reenacted budget for the first quarter of the year.

    At the Senate, finance committee chair Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said plenary discussions on the 2020 budget when sessions resume in November after the upcoming month-long congressional recess.

    “When we come back from our recess on the first week of November, plenary na kami (we will be in the plenary). So it will be a working recess for us,” Angara said in a statement yesterday.

    Angara noted that apart from the committee which he presides over, nine other subcommittees were made to hold simultaneous hearings on the budgets of different departments and to “turbocharge our performance.”

    “Kapag multitasking, hindi lang mabilis, masinop at masinsin pa (By multitasking, it’s not just quick, it’s neat and thorough). But, we don’t sacrifice tough scrutiny for speed,” he said. – With Vince Nonato