By Ben Rosario
Four days of debates have resulted in the completion of 54 percent of the plenary debates on the government agencies’ budget proposal that all but ensured that the House of Representatives will be able to will meet its target of disposing of the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Act before October 4.
Among the most applauded items in the proposed P4.1-trillion budget measure was the allocation of P1.2 billion that the Department of Information and Communications and Technology will spend to put up Wi-Fi hotspots with free internet connectivity all over the country.
The Lower House Press and Public Affairs Bureau boasted that congressional efforts to speed up passage of the proposed P4.1-trillion budget measure was “an admirable feat.”
“After four days of plenary budget deliberations, the House of Representatives completed debates on the budgets of 39 departments, agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations,” the PPAB revealed.
“This figure represents 54 percent of the 72 total number of government offices scheduled for plenary deliberations until September 20,” the press release added.
Congressmen braved the feared effects of the 5.5-magnitude earthquake that hit Luzon on Friday, and stayed in session up to past 11 p.m., just like in the past five days, to complete deliberations on the budget proposals of various government agencies.
In between the budget debates, the Lower House was likewise able to pass on third and final reading the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA), a move that remains unprecedented because no bill has ever been approved during a budget debate until the CITRA was passed on Thursday.
Both majority and minority bloc lawmakers credited Speaker Alan Cayetano for the swift plenary action on the budget bill.
“Under the guidance of Speaker Cayetano, our plenary officers led by Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Committee on Appropriations chairman Rep. Isidro Ungab deftly deal with the situation whenever the debates were prolonged by numerous issues raised on the budgets of certain offices,” said Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla.
Meanwhile, the DICT has guaranteed free Wi-Fi for a huge number of Filipinos following the approval of another P1.2-billion in government allocation for the project.
“The amount is on top of the P1.2 billion earmarked this year to build additional access points where Filipinos may freely connect to the Internet via their mobile devices,” said Makati City Rep. Luis Angel Campos, House appropriations committee vice-chairperson, said.
ICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan reported that the DICT has already installed password-free Wi-Fi hotspots “in 2,330 sites covering all 17 regions across 73 provinces in over 640 municipalities and cities” as of April 1, 2019.
According to Campos the P1.2 billion in fresh funds for the project will be partly sourced from the spectrum user fees collected by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Campos said.
Campos has authored House Bill 3563, which seeks to grant the NTC broad new powers to compel the country’s telecommunications sector to deliver superior Internet services to the public under pain of severe administrative monetary penalties.