By Ben Rosario
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s term as leader of the House of Representatives will be remembered in legislative history for having passed the proposed national budget in a matter of one month.
This, after the Lower House approved on second and later, on third and final reading, the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that will allocate P4.1 trillion for government operations next year.
Third and final reading approval registered 257 affirmative and six negative votes.
Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez was also cited by colleagues for playing one of the lead roles in the early passage of the measure.
Romualdez said individual amendments coming from lawmakers may be submitted to a small committee that will be formed to look into the proposals.
President Duterte’s decision to certify House Bill 4228, or the 2020 GAA, as an urgent administration measure may have helped speed up the legislative process for the measure but Cayetano’s brand of leadership still deserved credit.
Records of the Lower House indicated that the earliest that the chamber passed a certified budget measure was on September 26, 2017 during the term of then Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez.
The 2020 budget proposal was received by the Lower House from the Department of Budget and Management on August 20 but budget briefings were not immediately conducted.
The appropriations panel chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab started conducting hearings and deliberations on the National Expenditure Program two days after submission.
With the final reading of the 2020 proposed GAA done, the likelihood that the measure will be passed on time has become stronger.
Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said the budget of expenditures as provided under the 1987 Constitution is composed of programmed new appropriations of P2.850 trillion and automatic appropriations of P1.25 trillion.
Ungab said the proposed national expenditure is 12 percent or P438 billion higher than the 2019 budget of P3.662 trillion.
“It is also equivalent to 19.4 percent of GDP which is slightly higher compared to the 19.2 percent in FY 2019. The proposed budget aims to achieve the government’s development objectives by investing in priority programs, including infrastructure and social services by adhering to fiscal sustainability,” he said.
Unlike in past budget approvals that experienced opposition from various political blocs, the objection to the proposed GAA emanated mainly from the progressive Makabayan bloc.
“The letter of the president certifying the budget as urgent only allows the House to dispense with the three-day rule but does not serve as a license to do away with the entire budgetary process,” the partylist lawmakers comprising the bloc stated.
Makabayan solons decried the fact that there is “still a lot of time to discuss and analyze the national budget and still meet the October 5 deadline.”
“In short, blind approval now, followed by back-room pork barrel insertions afterward, away from public scrutiny,” the progressive solons said.
“The House blatantly violates basic principles of transparency and accountability by discharging its constitutional duty over public funds in such manner,” the group said.
The Makabayan bloc is composed of Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna; France Castro of ACT Teachers Partylist; Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party; Sarah Elago of Kabataan.
Deputy Speaker and 1PACMAN Partylist Rep. Michael Romero said the budget measure has been thoroughly discussed by House members.
“Swift approval is a glaring indication of our full support to the programs of the Duterte administration. At this point in time, the country’s full progress is at hand,” said Romero, president of the 54-member Partylist Coalition Foundation Inc.
In his turno-en-contra speech, Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. lamented that budgetary allocation for the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Department of Information and Communication are not enough for the two agencies to fully succeed in carrying out vital tasks for the country.
“It is unreasonable to expect the MMDA to perform its mandate properly, Mr. Speaker, when it cannot even pay its 3,000 traffic enforcers the minimum wage nor offer them job security,” said Abante.
He added: “I do not know how we expect to compete in the digital age if we do not invest in digital infrastructure.
For her part, Senior Deputy Minority Leader Janette Garin of Iloilo chided the budget proponents for the reduction of P9.2 billion from the budget of the Department of Health.
The current allocation for DOH is P98.6 billion while next year’s “is only P88 billion.”
“In the 2020 NEP, government subsidies to Philhealth and government hospitals had a total allocation of P71.4 billion. However this allocation represents only a P545 increase from the 2019 level,” Garin stated.
The education sector will receive P673 billion in 2020 to be distributed as follows: Department of Education, P551.7 billion; state universities and colleges, P68.5 billion, Commission on Higher Education, P40.8 and Technology and Skills Development Authority, P12 billion.
The Department of Public Works and Highways will put on high gear its “build, build, build” mandate with P534.3 billion to spend next year.
The Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare Development and Department of National Defense followed with P238 billion; P195 billion and P189 billion.
The next five included the Department of Health, P166.5 billion; Department of Transporation, P147; Department of Agriculture, P93.1 billion; Judiciary, P38.7 billion and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, P26.4 billion.
“The expenditure program for 2020 continues to give priority to social and economic services in support of programs that seek to alleviate poverty, build up capital and develop infrastructure to sustain the country’s economic growth,” said Ungab.