By Mario Casayuran
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has assured Congress that there will be funds for the mid-term May 2019 elections and salary adjustment of government workers, Sen. Loren Legarda said Thursday.
The DBM gave the assurance as the Senate and the House of Representatives bicameral conference committee panels are still ironing their differing versions of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019.
Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee and head of the Senate bicameral panel, stressed that she is amenable to President Duterte calling Congress to a special session if both panels fail to ratify their conference committee reports when it goes on a long election break starting February 7.
Both panels failed Wednesday night to agree on a common ground on the pork barrel-laden budget at their third bicameral committee meeting at the Manila Polo Club at Makati’s posh Forbes Park.
The Senate and Lower will resume plenary sessions after a weekend break on Monday and on Wednesday before they go on a three-month election recess on February 7.
The nation celebrates the Chinese New Year this coming Tuesday, February 5.
“The technical staff has now submitted to their respective chairpersons a copy of their recommendations, which we have to scrutinize before we approve each and every amendment. At the rate we are going, we did not expect the bicameral meeting on the disagreeing provisions on the GAB (General Appropriations Bill) to finish last Wednesday night,” Legarda said.
Legarda pointed out that there are two items in the 2019 budget that she is very concerned about: the budget for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the budget for the 4th tranche of the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) III for civil servants and the salary adjustment of the Military and Uniformed Personnel.
“We would like to assure the voting public and our government personnel that the DBM will source the necessary funds for the mid-term elections and salary adjustments,” she said.
Legarda said the DBM, for the requirements for the May elections, assured her that the funds would be sourced from the P10-billion unutilized fund of Comelec, as well as from the Contingency Fund; and, the 4th tranche of the SSL3 will be sourced from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF).
“The Senate contingent has to study and further examine the proposals of the technical staff, and I expect the House panel will do the same. But even if the bicameral meeting goes on for another week, we can actually go on until February 8, which I am willing to do and even willing to go beyond for a special session if it warrants, these concerns on the elections and salary standardization will already be taken care of separately. Hindi po maa-apektuhan ang SSL at ang eleksyon, anuman ang mangyari,” Legarda stressed.
Legarda thanked the technical staff of both the House and of the Senate who went over the amendments of both Houses to identify which of these should be considered as institutional amendments and individual amendments.
“We were working until past midnight with the technical staff sent by Congressman Rolando Andaya to the Senate,” she said.
“The technical staff has submitted to their respective chairpersons a copy of the budget recommendations, which we have to scrutinize before we approve each and every line amendment. At the rate we are going, we do not expect the bicameral meeting on the disagreeing provisions on the GAB to finish tonight (last Wednesday night),” she explained.
“Thus, even if the bicameral conference meeting goes on for another week because session adjourns next week, we can actually go on until Friday, February 8, which
I am willing to do and even willing to go beyond for a special session if it warrants, these concerns will already be taken cared of separately. Hindi po maaapektuhan ang SSL at ang eleksyon, anuman ang mangyari,” she said.