THE SENATE is targeting passage of the proposed 2019 budget by Dec. 12, after the House of Representatives approved the measure on Tuesday, but the chamber also continues to hedge on the prospect of discussions extending to January and a re-enacted budget for the first month of 2019.
“It’s very difficult to be able to discuss intelligently and lengthily pertinent provisions of the budget at this short period of time. So the realistic scenario we are looking is that we can pass this in the Senate by Dec. 12,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri told reporters.
“(Dec. 12) is the best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario is we will continue (deliberations) when we return (in January),” he added.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on third reading the P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019, ahead of its Nov. 28 deadline.
Despite the House approval, Mr. Zubiri said the prospect of a re-enacted 2018 budget, which is called for if Congress fails to pass the measure before the end of the year, will cover only January. He said Congress will also need to convene the bicameral conference committee after Dec. 12 once the Senate passes the bill.
“At the very least, the week of Jan. 14, 15, 16 is the ratification… Technically, we may have to have a re-enacted budget between two weeks to one month,” he said.
He is also proposing to the members of the Senate whole-day sessions on Dec. 6 and 7 to discuss the budget.
However, he added that many senators, such as Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, are expected to have much to say on the items in the General Appropriations Bill.
“That’s why we’re making a realistic assumption that we might not finish the budget approval on Dec. 12. At the very best, we can approve on Dec. 12 for third reading, but the bicam will still be working during the break. Ratification will be when we come back on Jan. 14, 15, 16,” he said.
Mr. Zubiri said senators have conveyed their estimated timetable to Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo following their joint call with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Taguig City.
Asked about Ms. Arroyo’s reaction to the Senate’s timetable, he said, “she was quiet about it. She was hoping that we can pass it earlier.”
He added that Ms. Arroyo assured the Senate that the budget bill will be transmitted to the Senate on Monday, Nov. 26.
In a statement on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Rolando G. Andaya said the chamber respects the Senate’s timetable for passing the budget.
“Like any measures, the Senate reviews, and in the process rejects or accepts, the improvements and amendments we have made on the national budget,” he said.
“It is also in the same constructive spirit that we will treat and assess the Senate changes to the national budget when it is sent to a House-Senate conference for reconciliation,” he added.
On the possible delay in the passage of the 2019 budget, Mr. Andaya said the chamber is expecting that a re-enacted budget will be in force “during a short, interim period” and will not affect the operations of government. — Camille A. Aguinaldo