By Ellson Quismorio
The proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020, embodied in the Committee Report on House Bill (HB) No. 4228, was approved by the Committee on Appropriations during a hearing Monday afternoon.
Davao City 3rd District Rep. Isidro Ungab, the principal author of the bill, confirmed this to House reporters following a rather surprising executive session by the committee when it was time to tackle the budget bill.
Only panel members take part in an executive session, while media practitioners are ushered out of the room.
“This is what happened during the executive session: the first motion was to convert the [budget] briefings into a formal committee hearing. So it was converted… [there were] no objections, the approval was unanimous. After which we approved the Committee Report,” Ungab, who serves as panel chair, said in the chance interview.
“There [were] no objections, only manifestations. So madali din na-approve namin (So it was also easily approved). After that we finalized the schedule [of the bill sponsorship and floor deliberations],” added the Mindanao solon.
The Committee Report was the result of the per-agency budget briefings – now committee hearings – conducted by the Appropriations panel on the P4.1-trillion National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2020 from August 22 to September 6. The House leadership had boasted over the weekend that the hearings were complemented “in record time.”
The NEP serves as the basis for the budget bill or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which for all intents and purposes is HB No. 4228.
Regarding the executive session, Ungab insisted that it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Actually wala naman tinatago (Actually there’s nothing being hidden), but that has been the practice even since. Noong ako ay vice-chairman pa, 2007 or 2010, ganun na rin ang practice noon (Even when I was still the vice-chairman, I think it was 2007 or 2010, that was already the practice back then).”
The budget cycle in Congress has been carried out under the specter of “pork barrel” ever since the discretionary lump sum funds were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC) in 2014. The year prior, the Janet Lim Napoles pork barrel diversion scam dominated news headlines.
A handful of House officials – including Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Majority Floor Leader Martin Romualdez, and Deputy Speaker for Finance LRay Villafuerte – have assured the public that the national budget for next year would be transparent and pork-free.
Ungab said the GAB will be sponsored on the plenary floor on Tuesday morning, with the floor debates to follow soon after.
“The target is hopefully by September 20 matapos na natin yung plenary deliberations (we will be done with the plenary deliberations). Between October 1 and 4, ma-transmit na sa Senado. Yun yung plano (Between October 1 and 4, we will have submitted it to the Senate. That’s the plan),” he said.
The closed-door discussion on HB No.4228 only lasted around 10 minutes.
Third package of tax reform OK’d
Before this, the Appropriations committee approved without much issue the budgetary provisions of a bill instituting reforms in real property valuation and assessment, and reorganizing the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF).
The measure represents the third package of the Duterte administration’s Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP), which began with 2018’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.
“The Appropriations committee hereby recommends the approval of the measure without amendments,” Ungab said, referring to the still unnumbered substitute bill calling for reforms on real property valuation.
Lanao del Norte 1st District Rep. Khalid Dimaporo made the formal motion to approve the new tax measure, which was quickly seconded.
“Essentially, ang hinihingi po is P58 million, pero ang gains po to the local government is P1 billion (Essentially what’s being asked is P58 million, but the gains to the local government is P1 billion),” Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said in seeking the Ungab panel’s nod for the bill.
Previously approving the measure were the Committee on Ways and Means chaired by Salceda and the Committee on Government Reorganization chaired by Batangas 5th District Rep. Mario Vittorio Marino.
The bill was a consolidation of HB Nos.305, 343, 815, 1616, 1782, 1908, 2085, 2400, 3358, 3368, 3566, and 3668.