The Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday started deliberations on the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 during a bicameral conference committee (bicam) meeting held in Makati City.
The bicameral meeting was conducted in a hybrid set-up in observance of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Senate’s contingent to the bicam is led by Senate Finance Committee chair Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.
Other senators participating in the bicam meeting are Senators Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Panfilo Lacson, Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Christopher Go, Maria Josefa Imelda Marcos, Risa Hontiveros, Grace Poe and Francis Pangilinan.
The House’s contingent is led by Appropriations Committee chairman ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap.
Other House lawmakers joining Yap in the bicam include Deputy Speakers Salvador Leachon, Michael Romero, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Deputy Speakers Loren Legarda, Representatives Jose Atienza, and Roberto Puno.
Lawmakers have allocated a huge portion of next year’s budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. Under the Senate’s version, a total of P83-billion was earmarked for the purchase of these vaccines.
Asked how many differences in the Senate and House version that would have to be threshed out, Angara said he believes there would be a lot to tackle.
“The Senate, usually, makes extensive changes in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB)…” Angara said in an interview.
“Ang maganda ngayon, parehong naka tutok sa COVID-19 response. So pagdating sa usapan sa vaccine (procurement) and health programs, I don’t think masyadong maraming disagreements (What is good is that both houses are focused on COVID-19 response. So when it comes to the subject on vaccine procurement and health programs, I don’t think there would be many disagreements),” the Senate finance chief said.
“I think any COVID-19 related, I think, would be the priority. In addition to that, the calamity spending would be important, and a prime consideration,” he said.
Angara said he hopes that (both houses of) Congress can ratify the budget measure next week.