Voting 22-0-0, the 24-member Senate on Wednesday, Dec. 1 approved on second and third reading the 2022 P5-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
The approval came after Senator Juan Edgardo ‘’Sonny’’ M. Angara, chairman of the Senate Finance committee, read the amendments of his colleagues to various provisions in the proposed national spending bill.
Approval of the amendments led to the passage by the Senate of the measure contained in House Bill 10153.
The accelerated passage of the measure was based on Malacanang’s certification of the national budget measure as urgent.
This triggered the naming by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III of the senators who will comprise the Senate bicameral conference committee panel.
They are Angara as chairman and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel ‘’Migz’’ Zubiri, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Ronald ‘’Bato’’ dela Rosa, Christopher ‘’Bong’’ Go, Richard J. Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, Sherwin T. Gatchalian and Joel Villanueva as members,
The senators will meet with their House counterparts to iron out their differing provisions of the budgets of different departments, agencies and constitutional offices.
Congress leaders had expressed hopes that the passage by the two House chambers of the budget would be before their Christmas break.
The impassioned appeal of dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, to his colleagues not to slash the proposed P28 billion budget for the Barangay Development Fund of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) could have softened their stance against the P28 billion NTF-ELCAC budget.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon objected to this ‘’huge’’ budget, fearing that it might be used in forthcoming 2022 national and local elections.
Other senators were against it because the budget performance and disbursement of NTF-ELCAC could not be assessed as they had no hard data to use.
The eventual submission to the senators by the NTF of its budget disbursement and the status of its various projects aimed at lessening the influence of communists in the rural areas could have softened their rigid stance.
Earlier, senators agreed to slash the proposed budget of P28 billion to P4 billion.
Dela Rosa stated that an increased budget for NTF-ELCAC budget would be dedicated to his comrades who died fighting the communists and the budget is for a just cause to end the decades-old communist insurgency.
He apologized to his colleagues for using ‘’unkind’’ words to express his sentiment for reducing the ELCAC budget.
Zubiri and Senator Francis Tolentino and even Angara said they agreed with the stated objective of the anti-insurgency budget.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, according to Zubiri, wanted the budget used for hard projects such as infrastructures for accountability.
During the period of amendments before the approval of the budget on second and third readings, dela Rosa appeared to have been mollified when Angara said his committee approved a P10.8 billion budget for NTF-ELCAC.