Duterte may sign 2021 budget before Christmas â Sotto
Senate President Vicente Sotto said the optimistic scenario is based on the assumption that there would not be much debate between the Senate and House of Representatives in reconciling their versions of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill at the bicameral conference committee in early December.
Senate PRIB/Albert Calvelo
Duterte may sign 2021 budget before Christmas – Sotto
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - October 29, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Barring “unforeseen circumstances,” President Duterte may be able to sign into law the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 before Christmas, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

Sotto said the optimistic scenario is based on the assumption that there would not be much debate between the Senate and House of Representatives in reconciling their versions of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) at the bicameral conference committee in early December.

“Before Christmas, hopefully, we expect the President to be able to sign it or at the very latest before the end of the year,” Sotto told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that, barring unforeseen circumstances, we will be able to keep to the schedule,” he said.

He said he was thankful that the House kept its promise of submitting the GAB before the end of the month, or a day before Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s promised Oct. 28 submission to the Senate.

Sotto’s schedule is that senators – particularly the finance sub-committee chairpersons – will have until Nov. 9 to review the House version of the GAB submitted on Tuesday.

On Nov. 10, Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, is expected to sponsor the budget.

The chamber would then have until Nov. 17 or thereabouts for interpellations as senators grill officials from 27 departments and hundreds of agencies and bureaus for hours, sometimes lasting past midnight.

The interpellations would be followed by the period of amendments, which hopefully would wrap up by Nov. 24. Then the Senate would approve its version of the GAB, after which the two chambers would convene the bicameral conference to reconcile the conflicting provisions of their respective versions of the budget.

Sotto said he expects the possible hurdles in meeting the timetable as this early, senators have already seen hundreds of billions of pesos in possible questionable lump sums or realignments made by congressmen that they think need to be shot down.

If the bicameral committee finishes its work in the first week of December, a week or so is given for printing, then the reconciled GAB can be sent to Duterte’s desk for signing, Sotto said.

‘Raise hell’

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he expects the Senate to go over the House version of the GAB carefully even as he vowed that the chamber would rectify any illegal and unconstitutional amendments congressmen may have made at the bicameral conference committee.

He said the House apparently made amendments to the GAB after it already approved the same on third and final reading.

Lacson also vowed to “raise hell” at the plenary on the repeated moves of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to issue circulars stating that the congressional initiatives or amendments in the 2020 and even 2019 General Appropriations Act are “For Later Releases,” derisively called “FLRs” by lawmakers.

The senator said he and his colleagues fully understand the need to scrape up funds for the pandemic, but singling out provisions made by lawmakers practically violates the Constitution’s mandate that the power of the purse resides in Congress, and wastes taxpayers’ money and legislators’ time and resources.

He said the FLR apparently is just a change in name from the “conditional veto” of the DBM in the previous years that was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the courts.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon welcomed the submission by the House of the GAB, saying it “will give us enough time to scrutinize the 2021 spending outlay extensively” to make sure that it will address the pressing needs brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I support the initiative of the House to increase the budget for vaccine procurement from P2.5 billion to P8 billion. I am glad that the House version has allocated a budget of P2 billion for DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development)’s SAP (social amelioration program) or ayuda,” he said.

Sen. Bong Go said he was looking forward to closely scrutinize the GAB, particularly on all health-related appropriations, and work closely with his colleagues in the Senate for the timely passage of the 2021 budget.

Go said the government needs a national budget that is responsive to its requirements to address the pandemic.

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