Week 5 highlights: Most intriguing angles from House #budgetprocess

After five weeks worth of marathon hearings, number-crunching, and impromptu problem-solving, the House of Representatives finally capped the #budgetprocess in the chamber by approving the P5.268-trillion proposed national budget for 2023 on third and final reading last Sept. 28.

The fifth week coincided with the conclusion of the plenary sponsorship and debates on the proposed budget next year, dubbed the biggest in the country's history. The Sept. 28 session was also the last for the House before it began its scheduled month-long recess.

Here were the three most intriguing highlights from the week that was, the final week of the House #budgetprocess:

1. Palawan solon insists PH has 'lost ownership' of some islands

Palawan 2nd district Rep. Jose Alvarez had hands down one of rhe most provocative statements to be uttered during the plenary debates on the national budget. In a throwaway line during his defense of the Department of Foreign Affairs' (DFA) 2023 budget, Alvarez said that the Philippines had islands in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) that it "used to own", while insinuating that those were now owned by China.

“I agree with you na nasisira po ang ating karagatan at sa ilalim ng dagat sa WPS. Kita ko po ng dalawang mata ko na yung nasisirang corals doon sa WPS ay hindi po dahil sa reclamation at pag-claim ng China sa ibang isla na dati ay atin (I’ve seen with my own eyes that the destroyed corals in the WPS are not a result of China’s reclamation and claim over the islands which were once ours). The loss of our islands in the WPS is attributable, number one, through our own fault. Hindi tayo naglagay ng (We didn’t establish our own) settlement,” Alvarez said on Sept. 27.

He further said that while Philippines did technically own such territories, it was only "on paper" and that the country cannot enforce its ownership.

Makabayan solon ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, who was debating Alvarez at that time on details of the DFA budget, gladly corrected her House colleague, probably out of instinct from her also being a teacher.

“Gusto ko lang i-korek ang ating distinguished sponsor. Sa atin pa rin po ito na ninanakaw, nag-e-encroach ang China sa ating likas na yaman na sa atin talaga. Under pa rin ito ng exclusive economic zone (EEZ) na kung meron lang talagang political will ang ating gobyerno, ay talagang ipaglalaban natin ito para sa ating kapwang Filipino (I just want to correct the sponsor. The territories remain ours, they were stolen from us, China is encroaching on our natural resources. These are still under our EEZ and if our government had the political will, they would fight for it, for our fellow Filipinos),” Castro calmly said.

2. Libanan appreciates non-railroading of budget bill

Most of the time, the House minority bloc acknowledges the numerical superiority of the majority and thus simply wants its voice to be heard in the lawmaking process.

Veteran lawmaker, 4Ps Party-list Rep. Nonoy Libanan, the minority leader in the 19th Congress, gave due props to the majority and by extension, the House leadership for not throwing its weight around during the budget deliberations.

“Let me commend the majority, for despite its numerical superiority, it did not behave like a rampaging freight train barreling its way through the railroad of law making,” Libanan said during his traditional turno en contra on Sept. 28.

The lower chamber has 311 members in the 19th Congress. Of the figure, only 25 solons belong to the minority.

There have been a lot of instances in previous Congresses wherein the majority asserted itself on the floor in the equivalent of legislative trampling; this may remain a thing of the past given the obvious good working relationship between Libanan and House Speaker Martin Romualdez.

3. Big task for 'small committee'

Speaking of Speaker Romualdez, the top leader in the lower chamber formed on Sept. 28--right after the third reading passage of the national budget--a "small committee" tasked with incorporating the individual House members' proposed amendments to the budget measure.

Comprising this small committee are Libanan, Appropriations Committee Chairman Zaldy Co of Ako Bicol Party-list, Appropriations Committee Senior Vice Chairperson Stella Quimbo of Marikina City's 2nd district, and Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe of Zamboanga City's 2nd district.

The amendments are expected to cover proposed realignments to the P5.268-trillion national budget so that important government programs or entire offices for that matter won't remain unfunded.

A small committee was also created for the same purpose during the crafting of the current 2022 national budget worth P5.024 trillion.

Once the House members' amendments have been weaved into the budget measure or General Appropriations Bill (GAB), it would then be transmitted to the Senate which will carry out its own budget deliberations in roughly the same time span.

A Bicameral Conference Committee will then be created to reconcile the budget measures from the House and Senate for the purpose of coming up with a single bill that the solons will submit to President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s table for this signature, ideally before the end of 2022.