2020 budget hurdles House two weeks ahead of schedule

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THE HOUSE of Representatives on Friday evening approved the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 on third and final reading, two weeks ahead of its Oct. 4 deadline.

With 257 affirmative votes and six negative votes, the chamber passed House Bill No. 4228, or the proposed General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020 the same day it was passed on second reading. It initially planned to have it approved by Oct. 4, with the House and the Senate targeting submitting it to the Office of the President by Dec. 15 for signing into law.

Lawmakers usually reserve Thursdays and Fridays for work in their districts.

The chamber also formed a committee that will make amendments to the budget on Monday, even as Section 58 of Rule 10 of the House provides that “On the Third Reading of a bill or joint resolution, no amendment thereto shall be allowed.”

The committee, chaired by Davao City-3rd district Rep. Isidro T. Ungab, will consist of Batangas-1st district Rep. Elenita Milagros Ermita-Buhain, Albay-2nd district Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, Quirino-1st district Rep. Junie E. Cua, Negros Oriental-1st district Rep. Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong, Quezon City-5th district Rep. Alfred D. Vargas, Camarines Sur-2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, Jr., Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali M. Gonzales, Leyte-1st district Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, Cavite-7th district Rep. Jesus Crispin C. Remulla, Manila-6th district Bienvenido M. Abante Jr., Iloilo-1st district Rep. Janette L. Garin, and Albay-1st district Rep. Edcel C. Lagman.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Sept. 17 certified the proposed national budget as urgent, allowing the chamber to do away with the prescribed three-day interval between second- and third-reading approval.

The government is keen on preventing a recurrence of late budget approval, which this year deprived new projects of funds for much of last semester. That resulted in a disappointing 5.5% gross domestic product growth against an official 6-7% target for full-year 2019.

Mr. Duterte had signed the 2019 national budget on April 15 due to a months-long row between the House of Representatives and the Department of Budget and Management on the adoption of a stricter budget framework, and later with the Senate on irregular fund insertions. He vetoed some P95.3 billion appropriations, reducing the 2019 budget to P3.662 trillion.

The delay also prompted the Development Budget Coordination Committee in a March 13 meeting to slash its GDP growth target for 2019 to 6-7% from 7-8% originally.

Appropriations Committee Vice-Chairman Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda earlier said that each congressman will receive P100 million for projects for their constituents.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexi B. Nograles, himself formerly House appropriations committee chair who had a row with the Budget department, said Mr. Salceda needs to clarify his statement. “Tingin ko kailangan klaruhin ‘yan (I think that has to be clarified) with Rep. Joey Salceda; pero (but) I heard some of his interview also sa (in) media and sabi naman nya hindi naman daw (he said that is not) ‘pork’ ‘yan kasi (at all because) those were itemized budget,” Mr. Nograles said in a televised briefing, on Friday.

“If it’s itemized and identified siguro ang sinasabi niya lang hindi naman maiiwasan (maybe all he’s saying is that it cannot be helped) that the representatives of Congress would appeal for budgets that would benefit their districts, their sector or their constituents.”