By Charmaine A. Tadalan Reporter
Beatrice M. Laforga

THE HOUSE of Representatives and the Senate expect ratification of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 by next week to enable enactment before the year ends, key legislators said separately on Tuesday, while the Budget department has begun the process of crafting the 2021 spending plan.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Isidro T. Ungab of Davao’s 3rd District said the body’s secretariat completed on Monday its review of the Senate version of the 2020 national budget, in time for his meeting yesterday with his counterpart, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara.

“The House Appropriations secretariat just finished studying yesterday the figures in Senate’s GAB as approved on final reading. I presented these findings to the House bicameral conference committee panel and will proceed to discuss the details with my Senate counterpart, Sen. Angara,” Mr. Ungab said in a mobile phone message on Tuesday, referring to the general appropriations bill (GAB).

“We will be working this week despite the inclement weather.”

The House approved House Bill No. 4228, or the General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020, on third and final reading on Sept. 20, while the Senate approved its version on Nov. 27.

The 18th Congress aims to submit the budget to President Rodrigo R. Duterte for signing ahead of its Dec. 21, 2019- Jan. 19, 2020 break in order to ensure yearend enactment.

Pressed for a target, Mr. Ungab said, “Hopefully, ratified na by next week to give time for printing.”

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III confirmed the timetable, saying: “We’re on track.”

“I understand in the bicam(eral conference committee), there will be very few points of disagreement. Tingin ko baka… (I think) on the week of the (Dec.) ninth, baka mai-ratify namin (we may be able to ratify the 2020 budget),” Mr. Sotto told reporters in a briefing in Mandaluyong City on Tuesday.

Mr. Sotto said that, so far, Mr. Angara has not flagged any major contention that could delay passage of the 2020 national budget.

Ang sabi lang niya sa akin (Mr. Angara told me) ‘everything’s fine, all is well, everything’s fine’,” Mr. Sotto said, adding that he does not expect the House to again make changes after ratification — a controversy that contributed to delayed enactment of the 2019 national budget.

“I don’t expect Speaker (Alan Peter S. ) Cayetano and the Chairman of Appropriation to do something like that.”

Mr. Duterte signed the 2019 budget on April 15, but vetoed some P95.3-billion appropriations deemed unconstitutional, reducing its total to P3.662 trillion.

A review of the Senate Committee report, shared by Appropriations Vice-Chairman Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda of Albay-2nd District, showed differences in Senate and House appropriations for the Department of Transportation (DoTr), Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

House Bill No. 4228 allocated P146.04 billion to the DoTr, P529.75 billion to the DPWH and P88.92 billion to the DoH; while the Senate provided P120.32 billion, P536.58 billion and P100.49 billion, respectively.

And with work on the proposed 2020 national budget in the homestretch, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has instructed government offices to start crafting their spending plans for 2021.

The DBM released the national budget call for 2021 through the national budget memorandum no. 133, dated Nov. 29, that was signed by Acting Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado.

In a text message, Mr. Avisado said the Development & Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) will convene on Dec. 11 to discuss the proposed national budget for 2021 and review macroeconomic and fiscal targets.

Under the budget call, the DBM said it will maintain a cash budgeting system (CBS) that forces state offices to spend their allocations on time by limiting project obligation of such funds to within the fiscal year, compared to two years in the previous practice.

“In the third year of the transition towards CBS, there will be greater focus on ensuring the implementation-readiness of proposals through better procurement planning, programming of projects and activities, and coordination among agencies,” it explained.

The DBM also cited the need for closer coordination between officials of national and local government offices to make sure that national plans and projects are relevant to the grassroots and that local plans and projects adhere to national priorities.

“The Department Secretary/Head of Agency shall be held accountable in ensuring that its budget proposals have undergone the proper RDC review process with a duly issued endorsement,” DBM said in the memorandum, referring to regional development councils that have both national and local government representatives.