By Vanne Terrazola
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Monday that it was unlikely that senators will just adopt the House of Representatives’ version of the proposed 2020 national budget as suggested by Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Zubiri said several other members of the Upper Chamber may not agree with Lacson’s proposal to adopt the House-approved bill on the P4.1-trillion proposed government expenditure program for next year to fast track its passage and prevent congressmen from amending provisions of the measure during the bicameral conference committee level.
“Well, malabong mangyari ‘yon kasi marami sa ating mga kasamahan, meron din silang institutional amendments na gustong [isulong] (That not likely to happen because many of our colleagues have institutional amendments that push to be included in the 2020 budget),” he told reporters in an interview.
“May individual amendments din kami (We also have individual amendments) na (that) we call institutional amendments — which we will defend on the floor anyways — which, I feel, are also equally important,” he added.
For instance, Zubiri said he will push for an increase in the funds allocated to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, particularly its Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or PAMANA program for conflict-affected communities; and the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
He also noted that funds for the proposed creation of a department of disaster resilience would have to be considered in the 2020 budget, especially now that lawmakers are committing to its immediate passage following the recent earthquakes in Mindanao.
The Senate leader, however, said he was surprised and elated with Lacson’s pronouncements about the House’s version of the budget bill.
“That’s a welcome sign that maybe it will be smoother sailing for this 18th Congress, particularly the budget for 2020. That’s a good sign and I’m quite happy that how we’ start the deliberations,” he said.
Members of the Senate, anyway, have agreed to pass the proposed 2020 budget early to avoid the repeat of the reenacted budget early this year due to the clash with the Lower Chamber on the alleged “pork barrel” insertions in the 2019 budget.
Zubiri added that he has been communicating with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who, as a former senator, was supposedly aware of the “ins and outs” of the Senate’s budget deliberation.
Lacson on Sunday described the current House members as “most-behaved counterparts” as he saw nothing irregular so far in their approved budget bill.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III he welcomed Lacson’s proposal, “but the thing is, we have to ask the members of the Senate to agree.”
He said all senators were set to meet in a caucus during their afternoon session Monday to talk about the 2020 national budget.
“Kung maganda ang pagkakasubmit, kung maayos lahat ng nandoon, kung kumpleto, ano pang kakalikutin namin. Eh ‘di adopt na namin (If the budget submitted by the House was better, organized, and complete, what more could we amend? We could adopt it),” Sotto said in a separate interview.
Despite being a former House members, Senator Imee Marcos, meanwhile, said the Senate should still scrutinize the budget bill approved by congressmen.
“Ang problem kasi talaga pag nasa local ka, o nasa distrito, abala ka sa distrito mo, pero importante na gampanan din ng Senate ang aming papel na ‘yong pngakalahatang overview. At least may national vision tayo (The problem with being a local government official, you are so focused on your district, so it is important for the Senate to fulfill its overview duties, to maintain national vision),” Marcos said.
“I am very, very respectful of parochial concurrence kasi galing ako dyan pero (because I came from the House but) at the same time, kailangan may nagtitimon sa taas na nakikita ang lahat (there should be someone to oversee and make sure that everyone is funded),” she added.
Zubiri said the Senate was scheduled to start plenary debates on the P4.1 trillion 2020 budget next week, November 11. He said they eye its approval on third and final reading on November 22, and have the bicam on November 25 to 30.