By Genshen L. Espedido

THE House of Representatives will work with the Executive branch in planning next year’s national budget, which will take into account the government’s post-coronavirus response.

House leaders including Deputy Speaker for Finance Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte and appropriations committee chairman Rep. Eric G. Yap were scheduled to meet with Budget officials on Wednesday to discuss the 2021 appropriations.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) had endorsed a P4.6-trillion spending program for next year, P500 billion higher than this year.

But Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, who heads the ways and means committee, said the budget might have to be trimmed as revenue falls amid a coronavirus pandemic.

During a virtual hearing of the House’s Defeat COVID-19 committee yesterday, Mr. Salceda said the budget increase from this year would have to be scaled down to 5–6% from DBCC’s 10–11% proposal, which was made before the outbreak.

“Minus inflation of 2.5%, we can still grow by up to 3%,” Mr. Salceda said.

He noted that the Finance department expects lower tax collections this year because most companies have temporarily closed shop after President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island starting on March 17 to contain the outbreak.

The Department of Health reported 230 new infections yesterday, bringing the total to 5,453.

Fourteen more patients died, raising the death toll to 349, it said in a bulletin. Fifty-eight more patients have gotten well, bringing the total recoveries to 353, it added.

Mr. Villafuerte said Congress, the DBCC and Budget department must take into account the state’s responses to the coronavirus disease 2019.

“For Congress, definitely, the investments would continue to be in infrastructure and health,” the lawmaker said. “We will have to prioritize health because of the situation.”

Mr. Villafuerte disagreed with Mr. Salceda that Congress and the administration might have to consider a budget lower than what the DBCC had proposed.

He said the lower chamber could adopt DBCC’s P4.6-trillion proposal, with the expected shortfall plugged with more borrowings.

“We are in a good fiscal position,” he said. “We can borrow money. We are bankable. I think we can stick to that budget based on a reprioritization.” — with Vann Marlo M. Villegas