By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Senate has conceded that it would be impossible for Congress to approve and ratify the proposed 2019 national budget within the year and hence, may allow a reenacted budget in the early months of 2019.
During their session Monday, senators agreed that they would not rush the deliberations of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2019 which has yet to be approved by the House of Representatives.
The Lower Chamber said it is scheduled to pass on final reading and transmit the budget measure to the Upper Chamber on November 28, as congressmen are still making amendments on the GAB.
In discussing the delay in budget, members of the Senate rejected the House’s timetable, saying it would only give the Upper Chamber little time — only six days to be exact — to deliberate on the House-approved bill before they go on a break on December 12.
They said it could be less considering the printing of the bill for its official referral to the Senate, and the preparation of the Senate finance committee’s report before plenary debates.
“We are really looking at the possibility of a bicameral report in January and a reenacted budget at least for the first two weeks of January is not impossible. We are blankly staring at that possibility at this point because of the delay that is happening,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
Sotto said this as he read out a tentative schedule prepared by Sen. Loren Legarda, finance committee chair, for the deliberation of the 2019 budget.But even Legarda believed that it would be “wishful thinking” for senators to believe that they would be able to go over the budget of each and every government agency within a week, he said.
Sen. Francis Escudero, who previously led the Senate finance panel, echoed Legarda’s supposed sentiment.
“Those who have had experience with the budget, Mr.President, should conclude that it is impossible to approve the budget within the year. One week is simply not enough to deliberate on this proposed budget,” Escudero said in his manifestation.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for his part, said the Senate should not bear the brunt of the delay in the approval of the GAB. He said the House, instead, should “suffer” in the event of a reenacted budget, where their insertions would be removed. Lacson blamed anew the “pork barrel” funds supposedly being worked on in the House’s amendment of the GAB.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, agreeing with Lacson, maintained that the Senate adhere to the natural course of waiting for the House to transmit the GAB before they take it up.
Drilon said he has no problem should a reenacted budget be implemented next year. He stressed that the Senate should review and come up with “rational” 2019 budget.
“I don’t think we should lose sleep over the fact that the budget will be passed in January. First 15 days, I don’t think the country will collapse…It’s better that we analyze this carefully. To rush and commit mistakes, we will never forgive ourselves. The country will not die, it will not collapse if the GAB is approved in January,” he said.
Sotto agreed with Drilon, saying “We should take our time.” He noted that President Duterte may sign the final version of the GAB in January.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the general sentiment in Senate was “We should not cram, we should rush.”
Asked by Sotto, Escudero said he believes that the delay in the House’s approval of the GAB was caused by the change in their committee chairmanship.
Davao del Norte Rep. Karlo Nograles, who chaired the House approriations committee, was recently appointed by Duterte as Cabinet Secretary to replace resigned Sec. Leoncio Evasco. This, Escudero said, triggered a “overhaul” of the items in the GAB.
With a reenacted budget in 2019, government agencies will operate using the funds appropriated to them under the approved 2018 budget.
Escudero said agencies may continue with the implementation of their programs stated in the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Only the allocations for the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) in the 2018 GAA should be used for next year.
As for the government’s new programs and purchase of new good and services, Escudero said agencies may start bidding processes but can only award contracts when the 2019 budget is signed into law.