THE Senate will seek to ratify the P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019 within two weeks after resuming session next week after Malacañang called on Congress to pass the measure “at the soonest possible time.”
In a mobile phone message to reporters on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said a meeting among the senators will determine the timetable for the national budget’s third-reading approval in the Senate.
“We have a meeting with all the members of the Senate to discuss the approval of the budget. It is only then can we ascertain the dates of its approval. But definitely we will try to finish it as ratified in two weeks,” he said.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto said the target is to pass the budget by the end of January.
“We concur with Malacañang’s call. Except the House transmitted the GAB to us one month late. The Senate is doing it best considering the predicament they painted us in,” he said in a mobile phone message
Presidential spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo warned Congress on Monday that further delays in passing the national budget will affect the release of funds for the salary increases of soldiers, policemen, teachers, and civilian employees of government.
He also urged Congress to set aside “partisan considerations” and to focus its attention on the general appropriations bill (GAB), or the national budget.
Congress adjourned on Dec. 13 with the national budget still awaiting second reading approval. Senators have cited the delayed transmittal by the House of Representatives of the GAB as the reason for the delayed passage.
Failure to pass the bill before the end of 2018 resulted in a reenacted budget in 2019, which the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has warned that it may lead to delays in the government’s implementation of new public works project.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, one of the vice chairs of the Senate committee on finance, pointed out a reenacted budget was the better option compared to a national budget filled with the so-called “pork.”
He added the Senate was not “playing partisan politics,” but rather it was closely examining the national budget to get rid of “unreasonable appropriations.”
“A pork-laden budget is far worse than a delayed or re-enacted one. Scrutinizing the national budget to get rid of excessive, unconscionable, unreasonable and irregular appropriations is not playing partisan politics,” he said.
“The national budget is the lifeblood of the country. Therefore, we must see to it that we do our role in making sure it serves its purpose and not just stuff the pockets of some insatiably greedy politicians,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the salary increase of government workers should not be used as a “bargaining chip” to put pressure on Congress to rush the approval of the 2019 national budget.
He added that the salary increase could still go ahead despite a reenacted budget since the resolution signed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III specifically stated that the salary increase should be implemented in four tranches up to 2019.
“Given the controversies surrounding the proposed 2019 budget, it behooves us in the Senate to really dig deeper and scrutinize each and every item in the budget,” he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Congress is set to resume session next week on Jan. 14, Monday. — Camille A. Aguinaldo