By Hannah Torregoza
The Senate will prioritize the passage of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 by holding marathon hearings starting today, January 14, and targeting its signing into law during the second week of February.
“While pressed for time, we will perform our duty to pass a budget that is geared to our collective desire to provide our people with programs and services that would usher in personal growth, community development, and national progress,” Senate finance committee chief Sen. Loren Legarda said.
“We want to ensure that every peso from the people’s taxes go back to them through actual delivery of services and programs,” she added.
Upon the resumption of session, the proposed budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Health (DOH), Bureau of Immigration (BI), Commission on Elections (Comelec), Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) will be subjected to plenary debates.
Legarda said the Senate aims to approve the budget by January 21, to be followed by the convening of a bicameral conference committee.
The House and the Senate are expected to approve the bicameral report before the last day of session on February 6.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that after the roll-call at 10 a.m., he would be calling for an all-senators caucus and will be discussing the timetable for the budget.
Sotto also said they would also be discussing the issue surrounding the abolition of the Road Board.
But the proposed 2019 national budget, Sotto said, will take priority.
“It will be the budget on top of the agenda,” Sotto said in a recent interview.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, reiterated the need to scrutinize the proposed budget carefully, especially after allegations of “parked” pork and budget insertions were raised in the House of Representatives, especially in the budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“May mga alegasyon na may mga idinagdag na pondo na hindi alam ng ibang departamento. Hindi lang po iyang nasa DPWH; mayroon din sa DILG na siguro mahigit P20 billion na hindi nila alam dahil iyon ay isinaksak lang sa budget nila. Iyan po ang aming susuriin (There were allegations that funds were added that other departments were unaware of. Not only with the DPWH; I think more than P20 billion with the DILG is also being questioned because they do not know it and it was just inserted into their budget. We will scrutinize that),” Drilon said.
However, Drilon said it is too early to say that the issues raised by House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya against Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno would derail the passage of the 2019 budget.
Andaya had earlier accused Diokno of adding P75billion to the budget of the DPWH supposedly to boost some infrastructure projects in Bicol where his daughter’s in-laws are elected officials.
“Iyan ay alegasyon ni Congressman Andaya. Sigurado ako na hindi maiiwasan na itanong iyan sa debate (That is the allegation of Rep. Andaya. I’m certain that it will be raised during the debates),” Drilon said.
“Hindi po natin alam (We do not know if that will cause a delay). It’s too speculative at this point. Pakinggan at tingnan natin kung ano ang mangyayari (Let’s hear and see what will happen),” the minority leader added.
“Ngunit sa akin po, tatapusin natin ang (But for me, we will finish the) budget not later than the end-January. Iilan na lang namang malalaking ahensya ang naiwan (only a few agencies are left for deliberations),” he noted.
Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu is calling on his fellow legislators to immediately pass the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the sake of his traffic jam-weary constituents in Batangas.
“Our 2019 national budget has been approved already in the Lower House. That’s why we are calling on our counterpart in the Senate and the Bicameral Committee to act on the passage of the GAA when the session resumes on Monday,” Abu told House reporters in a press conference.
According to the Batangas 2nd district representative, the implementation of key programs such as infrastructure projects relies on the passage of a new GAA.
“There are lots of government programs and projects that are being tied up or delayed due to the non-approval of the new budget,” Abu said.
Among these infrastructure endeavors are the countless road-widening projects around the country and the new road networks being built in the countryside.
In Batangas alone, the delay in the approval of the P3.757-trillion budget greatly affects the ongoing P1.104-billion Batangas City-Bauan By-pass Road that is envisioned to declog the worsening traffic situation in the Batangas City- San Pascual-Bauan-Mabini portion of the Batangas City-Palico Highway.
A longtime headache of locals, the daily traffic jams there jack up the cost of both services and products of the industries along the Batangas Bay. These include international ports, oil refinery and depots, and power plants, all of which provide the requirements of Luzon.
The Batangas City-San Pascual-Bauan By-pass Road is a multi-year funded project that started in 2017. The project is implemented by the Regional Office No. 4-A and Batangas II District Engineering Office.
“These projects were included in the NEP (National Expenditure Program) and also in the third reading version of the budget when it was passed by the House of Representatives,” Abu pointed out.
A further delay would mean that the biddings for the other components of the by-pass road would be delayed as well. He said the upcoming election ban would also hamper the continuous implementation of the project.
“Here comes the immediate need to pass the budget as the P210-million proposed appropriation for the next two bridges are included in the 2019 GAA,” the lawmaker said.
“We have already reached more than halfway of these projects and their completion now relies on the approval of the 2019 budget, that’s why we are looking forward to the approval of the 2019 GAA at the soonest time possible,” Abu said. (With a report from Ellson A. Quismorio)