BOTH CHAMBERS of Congress yesterday began meeting in a bid to ensure Dec. 19 enactment of next year’s proposed P3.767-trillion national budget, amid major differences between their versions.

“We set parameters for talks, schedule, timetable…” Senator Joseph Victor “JV” G. Ejercito, a member of the Senate panel and a vice-chairman of his chamber’s Finance committee, told reporters in Filipino, adding that the bicameral conference committee will break up into sub-units so “it will be easier to discuss specific issues.”

Ang target is Dec. 19 — the date set by Malacañang for the signing of the 2018 national budget. We have about two weeks to work…”

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles (first district), chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations committee, told reporters, however, that it may not be smooth sailing for next year’s proposed spending plan.

Hindi ganun kadali (It will not be that easy),” Mr. Nograles said.

“Remember, we finished this early as far as the House of Representatives is concerned [last Sept. 26]. We submitted it to them (Senate) early on and it took them how many months, weeks, for them to finish their version of the budget, and now suddenly tatapusin nila na malapit nang matapos ang taon, tapos ibibigay nila sa amin na ganito karami ang (they approve it close to yearend and give it to us with many) adjustments for us to start studying all of these na gano’n-gano’n na lang (just like that).”

Congress is scheduled to take a Christmas-New Year break from Dec. 16 to Jan. 14.

Major differences between the versions of the two legislative chambers include a P68.7-billion cut by the Senate in the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways. The total amount consists of an P18-billion lump sum and P50.7 billion for project with right-of-way (ROW) issues. “Hindi mo pa nga na-settle ‘yung dadaanan ng kalsada, paano ka magtatayo ng kalsada? (How will you build a road if you have not secured right of way through the area on which the road will be built?),” said Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, a vice-chairman of the Senate Finance committee.

Senate Finance committee chairman Sen. Loren B. Legarda said some P1.4 billion for an anti-narcotics drive were also realigned to military and police housing (P1.35 billion) and for the acquisition of police body cameras (P50 million). — Arjay L. Balinbin with Minde Nyl R. Dela Cruz