House plenary debates on 2020 budget start this week
Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, will deliver his sponsorship speech as he defends the spending bill amid allegations of insertions after the GAB was withdrawn the other week at the height of budget hearings.
Martin Romualdez FB Page
House plenary debates on 2020 budget start this week
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Plenary debates on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 will start tomorrow as officials of the House of Representatives have given assurance that the chamber is on track with regard to its timetable to pass the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, will deliver his sponsorship speech as he defends the spending bill amid allegations of insertions after the GAB was withdrawn the other week at the height of budget hearings.

Key House officials, like Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Deputy Speakers Raneo Abu and Neptali Gonzales II, however, said the plenary debates are just on time even if there have been few problems in the allocation of district entitlements among lawmakers.

“We were able to advance the schedule of the plenary debates,” Gonzales said, giving credit to the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who made the “initiative” as the original schedule was on Sept. 19.

“We are on track to meet the target deadline. We will work overtime to finish the budget deliberations,” Romualdez said.

“We are appealing once again to our colleagues to help us approve the national spending measure immediately,” the Leyte representative added.

“We will work very hard to pass the national budget,” Abu, a veteran congressman from Batangas, said as he noted that the government needs to implement President Duterte’s massive infrastructure program so that the Philippines would be at par with its Asian neighbors.

To be discussed are the budgets of the Department of Finance, National Economic and Development Authority, Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, and other executive offices, such as the National Intelligence Coordinating Council and the National Security Council. This is after Ungab delivers his speech that will focus on the general principles and macro-assumptions on which the National Expenditure Program was based, the fiscal performance of the government and the state and future directions of the economy.

Romualdez reiterated that the proposed 2020 national budget or House Bill 4228 would be “pork-less” and no longer contain lump sums, except for certain appropriations, like the calamity and the contingency funds.

“We are committed to pass a constitutionally compliant national budget. The House leadership will comply with the Supreme Court decisions that outlawed the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program,” he said.

“Our national budget for next year will give a very strong foundation to ensure the successful implementation of President Duterte’s programs with sustainable and equitable growth that would provide comfortable life for Filipinos,” he added.

Ungab had earlier promised that the House leadership would pass the 2020 national budget before the first congressional break that begins on Oct. 5 after convening its first regular session in July.

After the two-week floor debates, the House will use the following week to print the third and final reading copy of the proposed national budget before adjourning on Oct. 4.

‘Ping is watching’

Meanwhile, a key House leader has warned his colleagues against attempting to pad the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year with pork barrel fund insertions.

“We will be in trouble with Ping. The House has always been in his shooting range,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who chairs the ways and means committee and is an appropriations committee vice chairman, said.

Salceda was referring to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has made it his personal crusade to expose pork barrel insertions in the annual national budget not only of House members but also of his fellow senators.

On Friday, Cayetano congratulated Ungab’s committee and other House members for finishing hearings on the proposed 2020 budget.

“Pray, as we start the plenary deliberations next week, that the end-result would be a progressive and responsive budget with no pork, no parked funds and no delays,” Cayetano said.

The Speaker had earlier assured all congressional districts that they would be allocated from P400 million to P500 million in infrastructure funds.

Last week, a feud erupted between Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, who is deputy speaker for finance, and Ungab on the budget bill filed by the latter.

Ungab said Villafuerte wanted the bill, which contained the 2020 budget as submitted by Duterte to Congress, withdrawn and replaced by a new one with some changes.

That would delay the approval of the proposed outlay, according to the appropriations committee head.

Salceda agreed, saying, “It will not only delay; it will be the target of Ping.”

Villafuerte later admitted that more than 60 House members were not happy with the infrastructure funds that the President recommended for their districts and wanted to make some adjustments.

Sources told reporters that the dissatisfied congressmen were among House members whose districts lost funds in April this year, when Duterte belatedly signed the 2019 budget after vetoing P95-billion worth of insertions that the House leadership made at the last minute.

The Senate recommended the veto. It was Lacson who blew the whistle on the House adjustments. He also accused some senators of inserting as much as P23 billion in this year’s budget.

The senatorial insertions were not affected by the veto.

Before the veto, then appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur came out with a pork list topped by the district of former speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez with P8.4 billion.

At the bottom of the list was Basilan with P408 million.

Andaya also claimed that some senators and Cabinet officials “parked” funds in certain congressional districts for their favored contractors with the knowledge and connivance of most of the districts’ representatives.

Others, however, claimed that they did not know of the funds hidden in their constituencies.

These were the “parked” funds Cayetano referred to. 

After Duterte voted P95-billion insertions, Andaya alleged that one Cabinet official returned P200 million in commissions advanced by Mindanao-based contractors.

Other contractors were reportedly demanding that their money be returned or they would expose the lawmakers. – With Jess Diaz

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