House passes ₱4.5-trillion budget for 2021
The House of Representatives passed on third and final reading the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act as it ended Friday night the four-day special session called by President Duterte. The third and final reading passage of the P4.506-trillion national budget bill was immediately conducted after the second reading approval. This was made possible as the proposed measure was certified by President Duterte as urgent administration bill.
In a virtual plenary session, the Lower Chamber registered 257 affirmative and six negative votes to pass House Bill 7727 or the proposed 2021 GAA on third and final reading.
The six Makabayan solons, namely: Reps. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna); Ofelia Cullamat (Bayan Muna); Ferdinand Gaite
(Bayan Muna); France Castro (ACTTeachers Partylist); Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Partylist); and Sara Jane Elago (Kabataan) thumbed down the budget measure.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco presided over the third reading voting, his first since assuming the House leadership on Tuesday.
Previously, Deputy Speaker and 1Pacman Party-list Rep. Mikee Romero spent nearly seven hours on the presiding officer’s rostrum.
ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, assured the Senate that the “soft copy” of the proposed P4.506-trillion appropriations bill should be expected by October 28.
“Wala na pong dahilan para mareenact o ma-delay ang budget para sa taong 2021 (There is no more reason for the re-enactment or delay of the budget for 2021),” Yap stated.
Prior to second reading approval, the chamber agreed to create a small committee that will receive individual amendments until October 19. The body will be composed of Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, Reps. Jack Duavit, Joet Garcia, Joey Sarte Salceda, Eileen Buhain, Bernadette Herrera, Sharon Garin, Doy Leachon, XJ Romualdo, Luis Lloren Cuaresma, and Edgar Marie Sarmiento. Reps. Stella Quimbo and Edcel Lagman will represent the minority and independents in the said committee.
Printing of the House version of the budget measure is required for transmission to the Senate but congressmen believe that a soft copy will allow senators to act on the measure when they resume session on November 9.
On Thursday, the Senate sought, and was granted the permission of the Lower House to conduct regular sessions starting November 9, a week ahead of the approved legislative calendar.
Approval of the budget measure was delayed for at least two to three days, with the speakership squabble blamed as the main factor.
On October 6, the Lower Chamber, under the leadership of then Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, passed the budget measure on second reading. On that same day, Cayetano moved for the suspension of session until November 16.
The twin action, reportedly calculated at allowing Cayetano to dodge his impending removal as speaker, was frowned upon by many, including President Duterte who called Congress to a special session from October 13 to 16.
Swiftly, now under Speaker Velasco, the Lower House recalled second reading approval to allow exhaustive plenary deliberation of budget proposals of a number of key government agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
In his turno-en-contra speech, Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate assailed the P1.1-trillion infrastructure budget that allocates a “meager” P2.3 billion or 0.21 percent for the construction of hospitals and health centers.
But while government allegedly scrimped on appropriations for vital services such as health, it granted the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC) a “general’s pork” worth P19.1 billion.
The Department of Budget and Management planned out the spending priorities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic under the slogan: “Reset, Recover, Rebound.”
Under the proposed budget, the top 10 departments receiving the largest allocation are:
• Departmetn of Education and education program – P754.4 billion
• Department of Public Works and Highways – P667.3 billion
• Department of the Interior and Local Government – P246.1 billion
• Department of National Defense – P209.1 billion
• Department of Health – P203.1 billion
• Department of Social Welfare and Development – P171.2 billion
• Department of Transportation – P143.6 billion
• Department of Agriculture – P66.4 billion
• Judiciary – P43.5 billion
• Department of Labor and Employment – P27.5 billion.
The implementation of the universal health care program will receive a total P203.1 billion, with the much-criticized National Health Insurance Program receiving only P71.4 billion and Assistance to Indigent Patients, P17.3 billion.
For social protection the proposed 2021 expenditure will be:
• Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program – P113.8 billion • Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens – P23.2 billion • Financial assistance for individuals and families in difficult circumstance – P12 billion