Senate expected to work on, fast track approval of priority measures

Published November 10, 2018, 4:14 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Senate is expected to work on and fast track the approval of priority measures, including the P3.575-trillion proposed national budget for 2019, when it resumes sessions on Monday, November 12.

Senate of the Philippines / Manila Bulletin
Senate of the Philippines / Manila Bulletin

After the one-month legislative break, the Senate will continue its deliberations on the proposed national budget based on the items under the government’s national expenditure program for next year.

While budget hearings have been ongoing in the Upper Chamber, Senate President Vicente Sotto III admitted they might have a restricted timeline discussing the proposed 2019 budget in the plenary.

He noted they still had to wait for the House of Representative’s approval of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), and transmittal to the Senate, before being able to formally take it up.

Approval of the GAB was stalled in the Lower Chamber following the controversy on the alleged P51.7-billion “parked pork barrel” funds. After constituting a committee of the whole to address the issue, congressmen passed on second reading the priority measure before going on a break last month.

Sotto said they do not expect the GAB to be transmitted to the Senate in the first week of their resumption as he also noted the changes in the House committee chairmanship following the appointment of Rep. Karlo Nograles, who was leading the budget deliberation in their chamber, as Cabinet Secretary.

“Medyo nakakatakot ‘yon. Parang sumikip ‘yong time namin. Mabuti na lang nag-umpisa na ‘yong mga committees namin pero medyo ano ‘yan,” the Senate chief said in a recent press forum.

Aside from the proposed 2019 budget, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said priority bills would have to be tackled.

First on the list was the proposed Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, which President Duterte has deemed urgent. The Congress bicameral committee has yet to convene and craft the final version of the measure.

Like the UHC, Congress bicam committee is also expected to meet and thresh out the differing versions of the bills on the P1.16-billion supplemental budget for Dengvaxia “victims.”

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to ratify the bicam report on the proposed Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The ratification of the final measure that would facilitate the distribution of the P105-billion coco levy fund together with the reorganization of Philippine Coconut Authority board, is also seen.

Last month, Congress agreed to recall the enrolled bill following the contention of the government economic managers over some of its provisions.

Bills in the Senate priority agenda, according to Zubiri, include the proposed amendments to the Public Service Act; rice tariffication bill; the “murang kuryente” bill; the proposed Tax Amnesty Act; and the proposed Freedom of Information Act; proposed Medical Scholarship Act; and the bill on the prohibition of “endo” or contractualization.