2020 budget refiled in House, no insertion
Sources said there have been no changes in the GAB, which was filed last Aug. 28 and withdrawn on the same day as it was being readied by the House committee on rules for referral to the appropriations committee.
Michael Varcas

2020 budget refiled in House, no insertion

Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The House version of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 has been refiled after it was withdrawn last week due to a plea to increase the budget of some of its members by P90 billion for additional infrastructure projects.

During the plenary session on Wednesday night, the House referred House Bill 4228 or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2020 to the committee on appropriations.

The House leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano decided not to insert the request of about 70 district congressmen in the GAB that was withdrawn last week.

Sources said there have been no changes in the GAB, which was filed last Aug. 28 and withdrawn on the same day as it was being readied by the House committee on rules for referral to the appropriations committee.

This means the House rejected the plea to include the additional P90 billion in the GAB, which is traditionally a replica of the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by the executive branch.

House appropriations committee chairman and Davao City 3rd district Rep. Isidro Ungab confirmed this in an interview.

“There are no changes made (in the GAB). That’s been the tradition – we usually copy in toto the NEP in the GAB of the appropriations committee,” Ungab said.

He said while Congress could prepare its own GAB, it would take a long time to prepare it and could delay the calendar set by the House for approval of the 2020 proposed budget.

Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Salceda, vice chair of the appropriations committee and chairman of the ways and means, said the House leadership opted not to revise the GAB filed last week.

“The Speaker sort of allowed the House to move forward and that upon re-filing of the GAB, which will still mirror the NEP, it will be referred back to the appropriations committee so we can approve it and we can go to the plenary,” Salceda told The STAR over phone.

“In other words, all is well that ends well. The buck stops with the Speaker,” he added.

Salceda said the GAB to be refiled is the same GAB withdrawn last week, which would pave the way for passing of the budget as scheduled.

“Everything has been resolved. We’ll have the GAB as is where is, that’s the NEP. And that we will approve it before Oct. 5,” he said.

The House came up with the decision after meeting on the issue earlier this week following withdrawal of the GAB by House Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.

Ungab said that lawmakers are asking for about P70 billion to P90 billion in total additional budget to be included in the proposed NEP for next year.

He said they raised the concerns on the funds, which were either slashed during preparations of the proposed budget or vetoed by the President in the 2019 budget, during the hearing on the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Ungab earlier expressed fear that the withdrawal of the GAB could “open the floodgates of insertions.”

He hinted that the concerns of the lawmakers would most likely be addressed by a supplemental budget.

“We will study that possibility because the vetoed items remain as unappropriated items. So it is possible that we can tap it later. But I cannot say with a degree of certainty because it will all depend also on the executive department, if they will submit measures to cure the problem,” he said.

Ungab said the issue must be resolved without disrupting the calendar of the House, which intends to pass the budget before going into its first recess on Oct. 5.

Can’t add P90 B ‘pork’

There is no way for the House to add at least P90 billion in pork barrel funds to the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year, as demanded by at least 60 members.

“At this point, there is no more window to add anything. We just have to accept the 2020 budget as submitted by President Duterte,” Rep. Romeo Momo Sr. of party-list group Construction Workers Solidarity, told the weekly Party-list Coalition news forum.

Momo is an appropriations committee vice chairman and senior vice chairman of the committee on public works. He is a former DPWH undersecretary.

Momo said the House and the Senate could not increase the P4.1-trillion budget ceiling as determined by the President and his Cabinet.

“The only way to add to the President’s budget proposal is to return it to him and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) so they could make changes, but that would delay the approval of the budget,” he said.

However, Momo conceded that he and his colleagues could introduce minor adjustments in the infrastructure programs of agencies like the DPWH, Department of Transportation in the case of airports and seaports, Department of Education for school buildings and Department of Agriculture and National Irrigation Administration for farm-to-market roads and irrigation systems.

“But these changes should be within expense or program classes. For instance, if the projects are for flood control, you can make adjustments only for flood control. Flood control cannot be converted into roads and vice versa, because there are performance targets for each group of projects or programs,” he said.

Responding to questions, Momo said the President recommended P535 billion for the DPWH for next year.

Of the amount, 80 percent, or P428 billion, would be allocated for infrastructure projects, he said.

Asked about funds given to congressional districts, Momo said the biggest allocation is P5 billion, while the smallest is P800 million.

He said he could not remember the districts.

“It’s an equitable sharing of funds depending on needs. It cannot be equal distribution,” he said.

Momo and party-list colleague Niña Taduran of ACT-CIS admitted that they had proposed projects to agencies.

“Some were accommodated, others were not,” they said.

DOT budget hiked

The budget of the Department of Tourism (DOT) for next year will be increased by P800 million.

“Funds for the agency’s 2020 budget rose to P3.8 billion, actually close to P3.9 billion,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in a statement on Wednesday.

Earlier reports said the P800-million increase was just a restoration as the DBM slashed the amount from the P4.3-billion that the agency originally proposed.

Puyat said the DOT achieved higher contributions to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 12.2-percent in 2017 to 12.7 percent in 2018. – With Jess Diaz, Ghio Ong

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