THE SENATE on Wednesday approved on third and final reading the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022.

Senators unanimously passed the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the bulk of next year’s budget will go to the government’s pandemic response, including benefits for healthcare workers, emergency hiring of health professionals, development of new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) treatments, among others.

“We cannot overemphasize this critical dimension of the budget enough… Especially now, in light of the recent news regarding the emergence of a new variant of concern — the so-called Omicron variant, believed to be even more virulent and contagious than Delta,” he said.

The Senate increased the Department of Health’s budget by 26% to P230 billion from the P182 billion approved by the House of Representatives.

Mr. Angara said the Senate also raised the budget for the Department of Education by P6.7 billion, for State Universities and Colleges by P26.56 billion, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority by P1.46 billion.

The House of Representatives and the Senate will convene the Bicameral Conference Committee to reconcile conflicting provisions of the GAB. Congress leaders expect the national budget to be approved before Dec. 17, when Congress adjourns for the holidays. — AOT