THE House appropriations committee on Friday approved the P8.201 billion budget of the Office of the President for 2020, taking under six minutes with no interpellation.

The 2020 budget, which is 21.07% higher than the department’s 2019 spending plan, was approved following the motion of Albay-1st district Rep. Edcel C. Lagman to terminate proceedings immediately after opening the hearing.

Of the total, P1.070 billion was appropriated for personnel services, P6.703 billion for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), and P427.46 million for capital outlays.

Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand R. Gaite requested details on the OP’s funding on intelligence operations and peace talks among others, which Davao-3rd district Rep. and panel chairman Isidro T. Ungab directed to be submitted instead in writing.

“We would like to present a manifestation to also raise questions with the budget as proposed by the Office of the President, regarding certain matters regarding the confidential expenses, intelligence expenses, the issue of the lowering, although slightly, of the budget for personnel services and also the prospects of the peace talks with CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army),” Mr. Gaite said.

The committee concluded budget deliberations on Friday and is set to begin plenary debate on each agency’s spending plan on Sept. 11. The House of Representatives targets final approval of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget by Oct. 4.

Both chambers plan to submit the 2020 national budget bill by Dec. 15 for President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s signature.

The committee also tackled the P1.697-billion budget for the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), which is 12.23% higher.

The PCOO budget will be distributed as follows: P764.432 million for personnel services, P719.400 million for MOOE and P213.890 million for capital outlays.

During the hearing, opposition lawmakers questioned the News and Information Bureau, particularly on the alleged publication of “fake news.”

PCOO Secretary Jose Ruperto Martin M. Andanar assured ACT Teachers Rep. France L. Castro and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Jane I. Elago that it is not the policy of the agency to “red tag” any organization. — Charmaine A. Tadalan