By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
THE HOUSE of Representatives and the Senate on Tuesday assured the 2020 national budget will not be reenacted as both chambers target ratification of the P4.5-trillion spending plan for 2021 by next week.
“It’s very tricky to put a timeline on legislation pero ang maganda (but what’s good is) we have enough time. Ideally, I think by next week sana ma-ratify na (hopefully it will be ratified),” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chair of Senate finance committee, said at a chance interview after the bicameral conference committee tasked to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the national budget.
Mr. Angara said it is crucial to pass next year’s spending plan on time as this year’s budget does not cover items and programs relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
The government operated on a reenacted budget for more than four months in 2019 due to an impasse between the House and the budget department, and later with the Senate. The 2019 budget was also reenacted for less than a week in 2020, after President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the 2020 budget only on Jan. 6.
Mr. Angara and ACT-CIS Rep. Eric G. Yap, House appropriations chairman, have been authorized to hold one-on-one meetings to iron out the differences in the budget versions.
The senator assured that members of the bicameral panel will be consulted on the results of the discussions.
Mr. Yap, for his part, said the committee agreed to finish the budget meetings by Friday.
Both chambers also agreed to provide appropriate funding for the procurement of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) vaccines as well as the government’s response to recent calamities.
The budget, as approved in the Senate, includes P8 billion for vaccines under the Department of Health budget. Another P54 billion has been allocated for vaccines and P21 billion for its storage, transportation and distribution under unprogrammed funds.
It also sets a P21 billion calamity fund and P15 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction programs of local governments hit by recent typhoons.
“Our goal is ultimately the same: to have appropriate funding for COVID-19 vaccines and to allocate budget for regions severely affected by calamities,” Mr. Yap said in a statement on Tuesday.
He noted Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco had requested to increase the calamity fund by P5 billion.
On another item, Mr. Angara said the Senate contingent will follow the directives of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III with regards a provision inserted in the budget that will allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to waive election procurement safeguards.
“Nothing should affect the conduct of 2022 elections. If ever nga, we should look at giving the Comelec additional powers or even funds to conduct elections in a way that meets the challenges of COVID,” he said.
Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo, meanwhile, reiterated her push for another law focusing on an economic stimulus package, citing that the proposed 2021 budget is not sufficient to reverse a P3.3-trillion damage caused by the pandemic and recent typhoons.
“The budget call for the 2021 proposed budget ended in June 1. At that time, economic managers did not expect that the damage of COVID would be as big as it is today. The 2021 proposed budget… is premised on a 5.5 contraction of gross domestic product,” Ms. Quimbo said on Tuesday at a hearing of the committee on economic affairs.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are forecasting even deeper economic contractions from around 7.3 to 9.5% for the current year, factoring in the devastation of a series of typhoons in October and November.
“We need more economic stimulus… But because the Constitution does not allow any increases in the total proposed budget, we need to secure additional appropriations for another economic stimulus package,” the lawmaker said as she sought the approval of House Bill No. 8031 or the Bayanihan to Arise as One Act (Bayanihan III).
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, for his part, said the Department of Energy will need an additional P46 million to fund studies on potential energy sources.
“We have to invest on research to explore the potentials of emerging energy sources. The outcome of which will have a lasting impact in our daily lives and will save us money in the long run,” Mr. Gatchalian, chair of the energy committee who chaired the Energy Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Of the proposed additional allocation, P20 million will be used for an energy transition study, P20 million for a comprehensive roadmap for electric vehicles, and P6 million for determining the potential of waste-to-energy facilities. — with Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Angelica Y. Yang