On national budget, Congress rises to the occasion

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    WITH the early and timely approval by both the House of Representatives and the Senate of the bicameral conference committee’s report on the P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the 2021 national budget, it can now be said that when the times call for it, our congressmen and senators may be relied upon to deliver the kind of service needed by the nation.

    Starting yesterday, the printing press had been busy printing thousands of pages of the national budget, after which these budget books will be sent to Malacañang for President Duterte to read and study, and if it passes his scrutiny, the lawmakers surmise that the Chief Executive will invite them for the signing ceremony perhaps a couple of days after Christmas.

    As Sen. Grace Poe has said, the Senate’s approval of the budget is “timely,” for it will give the President a whole Christmas vacation, possibly in the comfort of his home in Davao City, to study the measure. Duterte is known to be fastidious when it comes to scrutiny of any legislation, and the GAA being one of the most important laws passed by Congress demands his painstaking work.

    ‘Lacson thinks this department, with its track record of “underspending and questionable, wasteful projects,” does not deserve it.’

    Aside from allocating funds for the government’s official response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the GAA also provides additional assistance to the victims of the recent three typhoons and other calamities. Regular government operations, infrastructure projects and constitutionally-mandated services are of course included in the measure.

    The education sector (DepEd, CHED and Tesda) takes precedence in the budget bill at P708.181 billion. The second highest is P694.822 billion, the allocation for the Department of Public Works and Highways, followed by the health sector led by the Department of Health with a P287.471-billion proposed budget. This amount includes the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), budget for specialty hospitals, hiring of additional health workers, and the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

    Other departments and their respective allocations are: the Department of Interior and Local Government which will receive P247.506 billion; Department of National Defense, P205.471 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development, P176.659 billion; Department of Tourism, P87.445 billion; Department of Agriculture, P68.622 billion; Judiciary, P44.108 billion; and Department of Labor and Employment, P36.606 billion.

    Sen. Sonny Angara said at least P72 billion is allotted for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, House appropriations committee head Rep. Eric Yap said some P23 billion was set aside for rehabilitation and assistance in connection with typhoons “Rolly” and “Ulysses.”

    While Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and the senators are happy with their work, not everybody in Congress joined the praise bandwagon. Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned the measly allocation for the national broadband project and other programs of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) while DPWH has an additional P28.348 billion. Lacson thinks this department, with its track record of “underspending and questionable, wasteful projects,” does not deserve it.

    The ball is now in Malacañang’s court, and it all depends on President Duterte whether we can have a national budget delivered and signed before the New Year.