THE House of Representatives on Tuesday transmitted to the Senate its final version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), containing P4.5 trillion worth of spending items for next year’s budget.

The chamber was originally set to transmit the budget bill to the Senate on Oct. 28.

Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco said the “record-high budget” was designed to further strengthen the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy after the extensive damage done by the pandemic.

“Not only did we pass the proposed 2021 national budget in a timely, constitutional and legal manner, we also made sure next year’s spending plan will be more reflective and responsive to the needs of the people amid the worst public health crisis in a generation,” he said in a statement.

The Senate confirmed receipt of the budget bill approved by the House, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said Tuesday.

“Senate just received the GAB,” Mr. Sotto said in a phone message.

“I wish to thank and congratulate Speaker Lord Velasco for the swift transmission. It’s even one day ahead of my original request that they send it on the 28th.”

Mr. Sotto said the early transmittal of the will allow Congress to work on its passage, in time for its signing before Dec. 25.

“This will somehow ease the burden on us to ensure the passage and signing of PRRD (President Rodrigo R. Duterte) before Christmas.”

Due to the prolonged pandemic, Mr. Velasco said the House increased the allocation for the acquisition of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) vaccines to cover more beneficiaries, and provided additional funding for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) of the Department of Health (DoH).

“The House-approved version of the budget also has additional funding for the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to aid workers displaced by COVID-19 and for the Department of Social Welfare and Development for another round of financial assistance to families affected by the pandemic,” Mr. Velasco said.

Among the P20 billion worth of items approved by the House Small Committee are P5.5 billion earmarked for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines; P2 billion for the HFEP program and P300 million for the mental health program of the DoH; P2 billion for the Social Welfare department’s assistance to families affected by the pandemic; P4 billion for DoLE’s assistance to displaced workers, P2 billion for aircraft purchases by the Armed Forces of the Philippines; P2 billion for the Interior department and the Philippine National Police; P1.7 billion for the Department of Education’s distance learning program; P400 million for the Philippine National Oil Co.’s development of renewable resources; and P100 million for the modernization program of Energy Regulatory Commission.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said the 2021 GAB is the most important economic stimulus measure Congress can pass “to lift the country out of its challenging circumstances.”

“The House Small Committee did its very best to ensure that the budget does not have constitutional and legal infirmities as it proceeds to this next stage. As we await the Senate’s version, we will continue to study how best we can introduce programs and projects that will respond to present and new challenges,” he said in a statement Tuesday. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza with Charmaine A. Tadalan