The House of Representatives approved the proposed National Budget Bill for 2020 in record time last September 20 and immediately sent it to the Senate. Last November 27, the Senate approved its version of the bill. Between now and the end of the year, Congress must approve the final version of the bill and send it to Malacanang for President Duterte’s signature so it will be ready to be implemented by the first day of the new year 2020.
All officials concerned are determined to avoid last year’s experience with the 2019 National Budget Bill. That should have been approved in December, 2018, but it was held up by disagreement between congressmen and senators, so that it got approved only in April, 2019. As a result, all of the programs and projects scheduled from January to April, 2019, could not be implemented.
Our officials are determined to avoid this unfortunate experience in 2020. But now the senators and congressmen must resolve their differences in their respective budget bills. They will do that in the bicameral meetings which began last Friday.
The Senate contingent in the Conference Committee led by Sen. Sonny Angara has proposed some realignments in the budget bill, the biggest of which is ₱35 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways. There are also proposed changes in the amounts for the Departments of Transportation, Education, National Defense, Information and Communications Technology, Agriculture, Health, and funds for government corporations.
The House contingent led by Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City will be pushing for its own changes, led by an augmentation of ₱3.5 billion for palay procurement. Congressman Ungab said he foresees protracted bicameral talks in view of the magnitude of the proposed Senate changes.
But, as in the past, the biggest issue is expected to be alleged “pork barrel” funds in lump sums without specific details parked in the House-proposed bill. This was the issue that delayed last year’s budget.
We trust that all concerned are determined to avoid the debacle last year. This year, according to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, it is the Senate that has made so many changes – totaling ₱235 billion in the proposed ₱4.1-billion National Budget. Most of the proposed changes are undoubtedly meritorious and we hope Congress will be able to have all the needed changes approved so that the final version of the Budget Bill be enacted before the year ends.