By Camille A. Aguinaldo and
Charmaine A. Tadalan Reporters
CONGRESS RESUMES session on Monday, Jan. 14 with the proposed P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019 as the top priority measure in the Senate and the House of Representatives set to tackle the Road Board abolition bill.
“These are the only remaining administration bills pending,” House Majority Leader Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of the 1st district of Camarines Sur said in a phone message on Saturday. “All others including tax measures are done with as regards the House of Representatives,” he added.
The government is currently operating under a reenacted budget as the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) remains pending in the Senate.
The House, for its part, approved House Bill No. 8169, or the “General Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2019,” on Third reading on Nov. 20.
Both chambers have until Feb. 8 to tackle priority measures before it goes on break for the campaign period. The 17th Congress will then resume for three weeks beginning May 20 and will officially adjourn on June 7.
On the abolition of the Road Board, which was passed under the leadership of then Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez, Mr. Andaya said the chamber will designate conferees for the Bicameral Conference Committee on Jan. 14.
The Senate has yet to discuss whether it will convene the panel to amend the provisions provided in House Bill No. 7436, which it adopted.
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told reporters on Friday that the bicameral deliberation and ratification of the priority measures identified by President Rodrigo R. Duterte “are dependent on when the Senate will be able to finish them.”
For her part, Senator Loren B. Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on finance, said in a statement on Sunday the Senate will continue to hold marathon sessions on the GAB with 10 remaining government agencies lined up for plenary debates.
She added that the Senate is targeting to approve the GAB on third and final reading by Jan. 21. This will be followed by a bicameral conference committee and the bill’s ratification by both chambers of Congress before Feb. 8.
“We aim to have the budget signed by the President by the second week of February,” Ms. Legarda said.
Congress adjourned session last Dec. 13 with the national budget still under the period of interpellations in the plenary or pending for second approval. Senators have cited the delayed transmittal of the House of Representatives of the GAB as the reason why Congress failed to pass the GAB before the end of 2018.
Agencies that will face the Senate’s scrutiny this week include the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Tourism (DoT), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Health (DoH), Bureau of Immigration (BI), Commission on Elections (Comelec), Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
“While pressed for time, we will perform our duty to pass a budget that is geared towards our collective desire to provide our people with programs and services that would usher in personal growth, community development, and national progress,” Ms. Legarda said.
“We want to ensure that every peso from the people’s taxes go back to them through actual delivery of services and programs,” she added.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III earlier said the chamber will also hold an all-senator caucus on Monday to discuss the GAB, the issue on the abolition of the Road Board, and the Senate’s other priority measures.
Last Thursday, the Senate leader also listed the following priority bills that the chamber will pass in the four-week January-February session: proposed amendments to Human Security Act, medical scholarship bill, proposed amendments to the Public Service Act, the proposed Mindanao Railways Authority, unified uniformed personnel retirement benefits and pension Reform Act, budget reform bill, rightsizing the national government bill, value for money procurement bill, traffic and congestion crisis bill, and the salary standardization bill.