Senate OKs bill extending 2021 GAA until 2022 on second reading

Published December 7, 2021, 6:51 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The bill which seeks to extend the availability of the 2021 appropriations up to December 31, 2022 has hurdled second reading at the Senate.

The Senate approved House Bill No. 10373 which seeks to extend the validity of the 2021 national budget with Senator Panfilo Lacson manifesting his dissent on the measure.

Lacson, during the interpellation of the bill, pointed out that Congress has been passing measures extending the availability of the national budget for several years already.

“Are we not condoning it to the point of institutionalizing the inefficiency of the implementing agencies?” Lacson pointed out.

But Senate Finance Committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for implementing agencies to disburse and utilize the budget.

Moreover, Angara said the “for later release” (FLR) policy imposed of the Executive department has also added to the problem.

Angara pointed out that during the pre-pandemic period, agencies already have a hard time complying with the cash-based budgeting which Congress itself imposed to fight underspending.

“Then the pandemic came and obstacles were placed in the way of the agencies, then we have the FLR, another obstacle, which was self-imposed,” the senator said, adding that it would take the government about five years before it can assess the readiness of implementing agencies to adopt the cash-based budgeting.

Nevertheless, Angara assured that the bicameral conference committee will consider a provision in the proposed 2022 national budget would would provide a “halfway house” between obligation-based and cash-based budgeting system.

“It maintains the feature of the cash-based budgeting which would force agencies to obligate the money in the calendar year of the budget while it gives them the leeway of making the disbursements and full payment in the succeeding year so it’s going to be like a hybrid system, hopefully by 2022,” he said.

In a message to reporters, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he hopes the Senate can pass the measure on third reading on Monday.

Zubiri said he would ask senators if they would be willing to hold Thursday sessions this week and next week so they can finish important measures before the Christmas break which will start on Dec. 18 until January 16, 2022.