By Charmaine A. Tadalan

THE PROPOSED P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 is on track to enactment next month as the Senate on Monday began plenary deliberation on the spending plan, even as realignments flagged by Senator Panfilo M. Lacson pose some risk of prolonged discussions.

“Out of this amount, 15.4% will be devoted to expenditures related to operating and improving our communications, roads and other forms of transportation; 17.3% for education, culture and manpower development,” Senate Committee Chairman Juan Edgardo M. Angara said in his sponsorship speech on Monday.

Social security and welfare will get nine percent of the budget, while 4.8% will go to domestic security and 7.4% to public order and safety.

The Senate will be opening plenary sessions in the morning beginning Nov. 12 and will hold sessions until Thursdays.

First to be tackled on the floor are budget allocations for the National Economic and Development and Authority, Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management.

In its last version, Committee Report No. 18 allocated around P593.19 billion to education. Of this amount, P525.88 billion will go to the Department of Education (DepEd), while the remaining P67.31 billion will fund state universities and colleges (SUCs).

Mr. Angara noted that the 1987 Constitution provided that education should have the “highest budgetary priority.”

The DepEd budget is also P6.2 billion bigger than the P519.65 billion allocation proposed by the House of Representatives under House Bill No. 4228. Mr. Angara said this is intended to increase beneficiaries of Private Senior High School vouchers and extend reach of the Last Miles Schools Program.

Naglaan din tayo ng pondo para magkaroon ng (We also allocated funds for) cash grants… bilang (as) tuition fee subsidy para sa mga (for) medical students ng mga (of) SUCs na may (that offer) Doctor of Medicine program,” Mr. Angara added.

Major appropriations will also go to the Department of Public Works and Highways (P529.77 billion); Department of Interior and Local Government (P237.99 billion) Department of National Defense (P191.34 billion), Department of Social Welfare and Development (P158.41 billion) and the Department of Transportation (P126.86 billion).

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri estimates that plenary action on the proposed 2020 national budget in the chamber will take two weeks to complete.

Then, both chambers of Congress will convene a bicameral conference committee (BCC) by the end of the month in order to harmonize their versions.

It is in the bicameral committee that discussions could take some time, after Mr. Lacson has said that the House plans to make some P100 billion worth of realignments from the version submitted by Malacañang.

Kami committed na hindi ma-delay. Ang problema makakapag-delay nito pag-insist nila en toto ang P100B. Magtatagalan kami sa BCC pag-insist nila (We in the Senate are committed that budget enactment will not be delayed. But the House’s insistence on the P100-billion realignments could delay approval. BCC talks could take long if congressmen insist on that),” Mr. Lacson said in a Nov. 9 interview with dwIZ.

Mr. Lacson also reiterated his call to publicize the meeting of the bicameral conference committee for transparency.

This is in response to statements made by Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano that around P50-100 billion will need to be realigned. The House on Sept. 20 approved its version, under House Bill No. 4228, on final reading.

The bill had been certified as urgent by the Mr. Duterte, allowing the House to skip the three-day interval between the second- and third-reading.

The enactment of the P3.662-trillion spending plan for 2019 was delayed by almost four-months due to an impasse between the House and the Department of Budget and Management, and later with the Senate over post-ratification realignment.

That delay, plus a public works ban 45 days ahead of the May 13 midterm elections, left much of last semester with muted infrastructure work.

That, in turn, slowed gross domestic product growth to 5.5% last semester from 6.3% in 2018’s first half. A pickup to 6.2% growth in the third quarter pulled the year-to-date clip to 5.8% against a 6-7% target for 2019.