By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE HOUSE of Representatives and the Senate on Monday resumed their bicameral conference committee meeting to reconcile differences in the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019, targeting approval on Wednesday.
Senate Finance committee chair Senator Loren B. Legarda said the panel is targeting bicameral approval of the proposed 2019 national budget on Jan. 30 so it can be ratified by both chambers of Congress by Feb. 6.
“We will proceed with our bicam[eral conference committee], at the latest, to finish everything by Jan. 30, Wednesday, because it will take five working days for both houses’ committee secretaries to finish the documents for a bicam[eral] ratification on Feb. 6. We have everyone’s commitment and I’m sure you know the necessity of a budget… and we cannot have a reenacted budget [for too long],” she said during the bicameral meeting at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City on Monday morning.
House Appropriations committee chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. concurred, saying: “We defer to that.”
Both chambers on Monday agreed to initially cap amendments at P50 billion. In the bicameral meeting, Mr. Andaya mentioned that amendments made by the Senate translated to around P190 billion, while the House’s amendments totaled some P50-60 billion.
“My suggestion is we can start at P50 (billion); then, when the need arises from both Houses… then we can discuss. When we start with a big figure, I’m sure it will still balloon,” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, a Finance committee vice-chairman, said during the bicameral conference.
Ms. Legarda clarified that the Senate amendments, which she noted involved some P189.2 billion, were not all allocated to infrastructure projects. “In fact, P68 billion of that are unprogrammed appropriations and much of that were requests of agencies… including DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government), DTI (Department of Trade and Industry, DoT (Department of Tourism), other executive offices,” she said, citing “both infrastructure and livelihood components.”
Citing the need to keep an eye on funding sources as bicameral panel members push amendments, Mr. Andaya told reporters after the meeting: “So we will study one by one the merit of the reduction (of the budget of an agency) and the merit of the addition (to another agency). It’s not easy.”
To recall, the Senate added to the budget of the Department of Health’s (DoH) health facilities program. Unprogrammed funds in the budget bill were also allocated to support the shift to a regular tariff scheme for rice imports, the universal health care program and a coconut levy trust fund, among others.
Mr. Andaya said House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo has informed him that the House wanted to prioritize in the 2019 national budget an additional allocation of P10 billion for DoH, P20 billion for the Department of Agriculture and P350 million for socialized housing projects.