Fears on the possibility of a reenacted 2021 budget are apparently still not over even as the House of Representatives already settled its leadership row.
Senators on Thursday raised concern over an impending delay in the passage of the P4.5-trillion proposed national budget for next year after Senate President Vicente Sotto III got information that their counterparts won’t be able to submit their approved bill until November 5.
“I am told by somebody from the House that they are only submitting [the budget] November 5. That’s the same thing, that’s the same proposal of Speaker [Alan Peter] Cayetano,” Sotto bared during their plenary session on Thursday night.
“If that’s the case then we’ll still be delayed,” he added.
Sotto urged his colleagues to get in touch with their counterparts and convince them to have the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) submitted to the Senate before October 30 or at least next week.”
“They can print it. If they pass it tomorrow, they can print it within seven days,” he said.
Sotto yesterday said newly-elected House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco committed to him that they will pass the GAB on third and final reading tomorrow, as originally agreed upon by both houses of Congress before the speakership standoff.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, questioned why the Lower Chamber would not be able to immediately print and submit to them its approved budget bill.
“I cannot understand, if they can pass it on third reading tomorrow, I could not understand why they will transmit the GAB to us on Nov. 5. Unless may plano na naman silang mag-amend after third reading (they again have a plan to amend it after the third reading approval),” Lacson, who has been advocating against “pork barrel” funds of legislators, surmised.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon agreed with this suspicion.
“Yes, that’s exactly what they will do. They will pass it on third reading on record and in the process of printing, they will accept amendments from their individual members,” Drilon said.
“That is why they cannot present a copy on third reading when they vote on it, because they will amend — that’s their practice. That is what will happen,” he added.
Lacson responded: “That’s what I’m saying. So nothing much has changed from the previous leadership, it’s all the same.”
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said the November 5 target of congressmen would again give the Senate a tight timetable as to the discussion of the 2021 budget.
“Because ‘pag November 5 or November 6 makarating dito sa Senado, I was told, the staff will need at least a week to study, I think, and even the vice chairs would need time to study.”
“So, if perhaps we can request the leadership to discuss or the Majority Leader (Juan Miguel Zubiri) to discuss with his counterpart, that to agree to give it at an earlier date,” he appealed.
“I agree, because November 5 or 6, give or take, that’s another 14 days: One week for the subcommittee chairs, and another week for LBRMO (Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office) to consolidate and one day to file, and another day to sponsor. So that’s already December, and we will have our period of interpellation and amendments for two weeks. So that’s already December 16 or 14. So may bicam pa, so reenacted [budget] din,” Lacson followed.
Sen. Richard Gordon, on the other hand, discouraged his colleagues from casting aspersions on their counterparts and “just go on and continue to discuss our side of the Congress and proceed and try to finish this as fast as we can.”
“If the other House wants to play games, we’re not play games, we’re gonna show the people we can finish this bill, if that’s important enough for us,” Gordon said.
“If they want to delay, it’s on them, not us. Kung ang rule nila i-delay at sisisihin tayo (If their rule is to delay and blame it on us later), we are not gonna play that game. We are not in a blame-fixing game, we are in a problem-fixing game,” he said.
Sotto said he hopes that Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go was hearing their exchange “so this issue would reach the Palace”. Go is a close aide of President Duterte.
Duterte earlier told House leaders to not to delay the approval of the 2021 budget, calling for “special session” in the Lower Chamber to pass it as scheduled.
The Senate, for its part, decided to resume sessions on November 9 so they could tackle the budget bill in plenary and pass the GAB sooner.