By Hannah Torregoza and Charissa Atienza
The Senate is ready to buckle down to work for the timely passage of the proposed P4.1-trillion national expenditure program (NEP) for 2020 now that it has entered the legislative mill.
The Office of Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara confirmed that a copy of the budget measure was submitted to the upper chamber by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Tuesday.
DBM Acting Secretary Wendel Avisado formally submitted the copy of the 2020 national budget to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Angara, and Panfilo “Ping” Lacson Tuesday afternoon.
Angara, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has set the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) meeting next week, August 28 and 29, respectively.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives have committed to avoid a repeat of a delayed enactment of the budget law.
“We owe it to the people to pass the budget on time. Any delay in the implementation of public programs and in the delivery of services is a disservice to them,” Angara said.
The proposed national budget for 2020 is 12 percent higher than last year’s budget. It will include appropriations for the Universal Health Care, conditional cash transfers for the poor, and funds for the newly-created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Angara said that just like in the previous congresses, vice-chairpersons of the finance committee would be tasked to handle the budgets of different agencies to expedite the process.
The P3.7-trillion national budget for 2019 was only approved and signed by the President on April of this year due to delays in the Lower House.
Angara said Congress will strive to ensure that the 2020 national budget would be on President Rodrigo Duterte’s desk before the end of the year.
At the Lower House, Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said members have agreed to “work day and night” to ensure the immediate and timely passage of the proposed national budget.
He bared that four marathon budget hearings will be held every day, which prompted the House leadership to move the plenary session from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“The House members are in full agreement that we all have to work day and night, from Monday to Friday, to make sure that we approve the 2020 General Appropriations Act by October this year,” Romualdez said a day after the DBM submitted the P4.1-trillion NEP.
He said they will hold four budget hearings daily at the committee level almost simultaneously.
The hearings are set at 9 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 1:30 p.m.
“House members may have to shuttle between hearings in order to maximize their participation in the budget deliberations. I am thankful that all the House members agreed to this schedule, which is really a tall order,” he said.
Romualdez disclosed that starting September 12, they will extend their session days from the regular Monday to Wednesday schedule to ensure the exhaustive plenary budget deliberations.
“We will hold plenary sessions even on Thursdays and Fridays to make sure that the national budget will get the House members’ nod on time,” he said.
As chairman of the House Committee on Rules, Romualdez said he agreed to the request of Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, that his panel be allowed to hold the budget hearings even after the 5 p.m. plenary proceedings.
“This means that the appropriations committee may hold budget hearings at the committee level simultaneous with the plenary debates on other pending bills and resolutions,” he said.
“This will ensure that plenary deliberations on other pending issues, such as the vital revenue measures, will push through even as we are working round the clock on the budget bill,” he added.
Ungab earlier said House Joint Resolution No. 9 seeking to extend the validity of the 2019 Appropriations for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlays (CO) until December 31, 2020, will “most likely” be discussed during the budget deliberations.
House Joint Resolution No. 9 was filed by Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda.
“Most likely, the resolution and all related bills will be discussed during the budget deliberations,” Ungab said.
He said they would ask the DBM and other concerned agencies whether or not extending the validity of the 2019 funds would be the “best option” to address the delayed implementation of programs and projects for the delivery of basic services.
Romualdez explained that Section 71 of the House Rules provides that House members are deemed present in a House session if they are attending committee meetings authorized by the House Committee on Rules.
While Section 35 of the House Rules provides that “only the committee on rules and such committees to which it has granted permission, may meet while the House is in plenary session, has adjourned, or is in recess.”
“Under these rules, the committee on appropriations may continue with their budget hearings while the House is in plenary session. We are invoking the powers of the Majority Leader, as Rules Chairman, to enable the House to tackle simultaneously all the vital measures included in the President’s legislative agenda,” Romualdez said.
He said they are eyeing the bicameral conference panel discussions on the 2020 proposed national budget by early December and its final approval before the year ends.
“Hopefully, we can have a bicameral conference early December, then approve the 2020 national budget before the year ends,” he said.
The P4.1-trillion proposed national budget for 2020 is 12 percent higher than the 2019 budget of P3.662-trillion.
According to the DBM, the 2020 budget will continue to support inclusive growth strategies aimed at accelerating investments in public infrastructure, improving anti-poverty programs, and intensifying employment generation.