By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Congress might have to stretch their sessions until the third week of December to be able to approve the proposed national budget for next year.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Saturday said the Senate would possibly ask the House of Representatives to extend their sessions until December 19 so that they could scrutinize the P3.757-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2019, and avoid having reenacted 2018 budget.
The House has yet to approve on third and final reading the GAB due to delays in its debates, as well as recent changes in its committee leaderships.
Sotto said that he trusts House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr.’s earlier assurance that the GAB will be transmitted to the Upper Chamber by next week.
But even then, the Senate chief admitted that senators are already “apprehensive” since they would have less time looking into the items of the 2019 budget.
Sotto said that traditionally, the Lower Chamber should have already approved the priority bill before they went on a break last month. It would give the Senate finance committee the time to wrap up its hearings on GAB and prepare its report for plenary debates when they resume.
By end of November or first week of December, Sotto said the bicameral conference committee should have been reconciling the differing provisions of the Senate- and House-approved bills.
President Duterte should sign the Congress-ratified GAB before the New Year, or else the appropriations approved in 2018 would be used — a possibility which Sotto said is “not remote.”
“Medyo delikado magkahuli-huli ito. Pero ‘pag nangyari ‘yon, hindi namin kasalanan ‘yon (It would be dangerous if the approval of the budget is delayed. But if it happens, that would not be the Senate’s fault),” Sotto said.
“Ayaw din namin, kaya lang kung masyadong delay na tatanggapin namin, anong gagawin namin? Hindi naman kami pwedeng basta um-Amen lang (We don’t want that, too. But if we receive the GAB too late, what could we do? We cannot just agree with the House’s version),” he added.
Congress is scheduled to hold session until December 12 before it adjourns on December 15 for the holiday break.
Sotto said the Senate will try to fast track its debates on the GAB once it reaches them.