Speaker: No pork in 2021 bud­get

Se­nate eyes rat­i­fi­ca­tion by 2nd week of De­cem­ber

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By EDU PUNAY

The P4.5- tril­lion na­tional bud­get passed by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Fri­day night is free of “pork,” Speaker Lord Allan Ve­lasco said.

“We make sure that this is a con­sti­tu­tional bud­get based on the de­ci­sion of the Supreme Court. We are all lawyers here and we are mak­ing sure that there is no ‘pork’ in the said bud­get,” Ve­lasco told re­porters shortly af­ter the ap­proval on third and fi­nal read­ing of the record-high bud­get.

Mala­cañang said it’s now the turn of sen­a­tors to work for the timely ap­proval of the na­tional out­lay, the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of which the Se­nate lead­er­ship hopes to see by the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber – if it re­ceives the ap­proved ver­sion from the House be­fore the end of the month.

The SC rul­ing specif­i­cally de­clared as un­con­sti­tu­tional the pre­vi­ous prac­tice where law­mak­ers “in­ter­vene, as­sume or par­tic­i­pate in any of the var­i­ous post- en­act­ment stages of the bud­get ex­e­cu­tion, such as but not lim­ited to the ar­eas of pro­ject iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, mod­i­fi­ca­tion and re­vi­sion of pro­ject iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, fund re­lease and/or fund re­align­ment un­re­lated to the power of con­gres­sional over­sight.”

The Speaker vowed that there would be no in­ser­tions by con­gress­men dur­ing the pe­riod of amend­ments as

the House now fol­lowed the in­sti­tu­tional amend­ments prac­ticed by the Se­nate where changes in the GAB are ini­ti­ated by con­cerned agen­cies.

“I com­mend you, my fel­low rep­re­sen­ta­tives, that de­spite the dif­fer­ences in view­points we have proven to the Filipino peo­ple that we can ac­tu­ally work to­gether and get things done,” Ve­lasco said in a speech.

“The ex­pen­di­ture pro­gram is no or­di­nary one. It is an ex­tra­or­di­nary bud­get for ex­tra­or­di­nary times,” he said.

In pass­ing House Bill No. 7727 or the 2021 GAB via a 267- 6 vote, the cham­ber ap­proved the cre­ation of a spe­cial com­mit­tee to con­sol­i­date all amend­ments to the mea­sure to be sub­mit­ted by agen­cies next week prior to print­ing and sub­mis­sion to the Se­nate on Oct.28.

The STAR learned that the House lead­er­ship des­ig­nated 14 rank­ing con­gress­men as mem­bers of the small com­mit­tee.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Martin Ro­mualdez, Se­nior Deputy Speaker Doy Lea­chon and ap­pro­pri­a­tion com­mit­tee chair­man Eric Yap will lead the panel with Reps. Joey Sal­ceda, Stella Quimbo, Sharon Garin, Edgar Sarmiento, Jack Duavit, Joet Gar­cia, XJ Ro­mualdo, Ber­nadette Her­rera, Banti Cuaresma, Eileen Er­mita Buhain and Ed­cel Lag­man as mem­bers.

Ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties and blocs in the House – the rul­ing PDP-La­ban, Na­tional Unity Party, Na­tional Peo­ple’s Coali­tion, Lakas-CMD, Lib­eral Party, Party-List Coali­tion and the mi­nor­ity – are rep­re­sented among mem­bers of the com­mit­tee.

Ve­lasco re­vealed that the com­mit­tee would look into pro­pos­als to in­crease the bud­get of agen­cies play­ing cru­cial roles in the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the coron­avirus pan­demic, par­tic­u­larly the Depart­ment of Health and the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

“Ac­tu­ally, there are a lot of agen­cies ask­ing for ad­di­tional bud­get. We will look into it def­i­nitely, specif­i­cally the bud­get for pur­chase of vac­cine. We will try to look for other funds that we can put to health,” he said.

Big­ger bud­get for ICT

The Speaker said there was also a pro­posal to in­crease the bud­get for in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy.

“ICT is cru­cial for our stu­dents at this time and there is re­ally a need to im­prove our broad­band net­work be­cause as you know, our con­nec­tiv­ity is weak. So we will def­i­nitely look into that,” he pointed out.

Ve­lasco added that the Armed Forces might also get ad­di­tional fund­ing for ac­qui­si­tion of he­li­copters and C-130 air­craft, which he said are “needed in this time of COVID-19 for timely de­liv­ery of goods in prov­inces.”

He also said the com­mit­tee would also look into the re­ported “un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion” of in­fra­struc­ture projects among dis­tricts – a con­cern raised by his ally Ne­gros Ori­en­tal Rep. Arnie Teves dur­ing bud­get hear­ing.

“I’m still look­ing at it, I haven’t re­viewed it yet. Dur­ing the small com­mit­tee next week hope­fully, we’ll see it al­ready. But for me, if it’s there al­ready, there should be no move­ment un­less it is not nec­es­sary and we need the funds for more ur­gent re­sponse for COVID-19,” he ex­plained.

“As much as pos­si­ble, we want to do ev­ery­thing we can to fairly dis­trib­ute the projects among the dis­tricts,” Ve­lasco added.

The Speaker also de­nied the al­le­ga­tion of ousted deputy speaker and Ca­marines Sur Rep. LRay Vil­la­fuerte that for­mer con­gress­man Rolando An­daya had an ac­tive role in the bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions un­der the new lead­er­ship.

“I haven’t seen con­gress­man An­daya ac­tively par­tic­i­pat­ing be­hind the scenes,” he stressed, dis­miss­ing the in­sin­u­a­tion of Vil­la­fuerte.

“I can still un­der­stand why Con­gress­man LRay doesn’t want to stop ever since the start of the (speak­er­ship) fight and up to now he still won’t stop talk­ing. I just don’t try to lis­ten to that any­more. What’s im­por­tant is we are united here in Congress now,” he com­mented.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Vi­cente Sotto III and Sen. Sonny An­gara, chair­man of the Se­nate fi­nance com­mit­tee, have sought com­mit­ment from House lead­ers to trans­mit the bud­get as soon as pos­si­ble, ac­cord­ing to Ma­jor­ity Leader Juan Miguel Zu­biri.

“Orig­i­nally, their (House) re­quest is ( to trans­mit the bud­get) on Nov. 5 but they will com­ply (with the re­quest of the Se­nate for an ear­lier trans­mit­tal). Then we sched­ule maybe by the end of Novem­ber there will be a Se­nate ver­sion, then rat­i­fi­ca­tion. The long­est time is the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber for rat­i­fi­ca­tion and for the Pres­i­dent to sign so that the new bud­get is avail­able be­fore Jan­uary,” Zu­biri said.

Early re­sump­tion

He said the Se­nate plans to re­sume ses­sion on Nov.9 or a week ahead of the orig­i­nal Nov. 16 sched­ule.

“An­gara will spon­sor the NEP (na­tional ex­pen­di­tures pro­gram) and then there will be a de­bate ev­ery day to ex­pe­dite ap­proval,” Zu­biri said.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Franklin Drilon ex­pressed con­cern the House might still ac­cept in­ser­tions even af­ter ap­proval of the bud­get.

“In our Con­sti­tu­tion, af­ter pass­ing the third read­ing, there should be print­ing and no amend­ments. Now it is com­pli­cated, ap­proval on third read­ing on pa­per be­cause they have small com­mit­tees made to ac­cept in­ser­tions or amend­ments. That is why it can­not be sub­mit­ted im­me­di­ately. I mean, it should be just four days af­ter print­ing. But they will not end. In fact, I read in the news­pa­per that they will only give an ad­vance copy on Oct. 29,” Drilon noted.

Sen. Pan­filo Lac­son said the House lead­er­ship should be re­minded of a Con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion that says: “Upon the last read­ing of a bill, no amend­ment thereto shall be al­lowed.”

“Amid prom­ises of ‘ best ef­forts’ to trans­mit the bud­get bill by end-Oc­to­ber, if the House still ends up trans­mit­ting the bill on Nov. 5, does it mean that the de­scrip­tion ‘House of the Peo­ple’ is all lip ser­vice?”

Mean­while, Pres­i­den­tial Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Op­er­a­tions Of­fice (PCOO) chief Martin An­da­nar and pres­i­den­tial spokesman Harry Roque Jr. praised the House for the ap­proval of the bud­get mea­sure and ex­pressed con­fi­dence the Se­nate would act swiftly to en­sure its rat­i­fi­ca­tion be­fore yearend.

“We laud the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, un­der the lead­er­ship of House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Ve­lasco, for the ap­proval of the P4.506-tril­lion 2021 Gen­eral Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Bill (GAB) on its third and fi­nal read­ing,” An­da­nar said.

“As the 2021 GAB pro­gresses to the Se­nate for its de­lib­er­a­tion, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ ap­proval of the bill will go a long way in help­ing sup­port and re­al­ize the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion’s out­lined un­der­tak­ings, re­sponses and pro­grams for our col­lec­tive re­cov­ery from the ad­verse im­pacts of COVID-19,” An­da­nar said.

“We hope that the Se­nate’s de­lib­er­a­tion on the 2021 GAB will be swift and ef­fi­cient, in or­der for us to be on track to­wards ful­fill­ing our man­date to the Filipinos and our goal of heal­ing, re­bound­ing and re­cov­er­ing as one na­tion,” he said.

In a state­ment, Roque said he hopes the House would trans­mit the bud­get doc­u­ments to the Se­nate as soon as pos­si­ble “so that the Up­per Cham­ber would be given am­ple time to act on this leg­isla­tive mea­sure, which has been cer­ti­fied ur­gent by the Pres­i­dent.”

“The Chief Ex­ec­u­tive has on many oc­ca­sions ar­tic­u­lated the im­por­tance of the timely pas­sage of the bud­get, given that we are in the mid­dle of the COVID-19 pan­demic where we need re­sources to fund gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tions to mit­i­gate the ad­verse ef­fects of the virus,” Roque added.

GEREMY PINTOLO

Vis­i­tors en­joy the roller coaster and other thrill rides at En­chanted King­dom in La­guna, which was re- opened to the pub­lic yes­ter­day. The theme park op­er­ates un­der strict safety and health pro­to­cols and ad­mits only those aged 21 to 59.

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