House approves 2020 budget bill

THE House of Representatives, voting 257-6 with zero abstention, approved the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 Friday evening, September 20, 2019.

Nominal voting was conducted at past 8 p.m. Friday, immediately after the House approved the bill on second reading through viva voce voting. A total of 263 members voted, House .Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said.

House Bill No. 4228, or the 2020 General Appropriations Bill, was approved two weeks ahead of the October 4 deadline set by House leaders.

Before the roll call vote was conducted, Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate, in a manifestation, complained that the House did not only skip the period of amendments but was also about to approve HB 4228 without even providing the members a final copy of the bill that will be forwarded to the Senate.

The House formed a committee for the individual amendments. Deadline for the submission of individual amendments is on Monday, September 23.

Senior Deputy Minority Leader Janette Garin, delivering her turno en contra speech before the voting, said this was "the fastest approval I have experienced in my whole political life."

The proposed budget was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet on August 5, 2019.

Acting Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado submitted it to Congress on August 20, paving the way for marathon hearings by the House committee on appropriations.

The bill was approved without amendment by the House committee on appropriations, chaired by Davao City 3rd District Isidro Ungab, on September 9, 2019 and submitted to the plenary on the same day.

The President certified the bill as urgent on September 17, which means that it may be passed by Congress on second, third and final reading on the same day.

Despite the speed with which the hearings and plenary deliberations were conducted, Garin said they did not sacrifice quality.

"We, in the minority, thank the majority for bearing with us, understanding that what we are doing is for the Filipino people," she said.

In her speech, Garin questioned how the proposed budget could finance the programmed national government budget deficit of P677.5 billion.

She also questioned the lower budget for health care as well as the budget proposals of the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education, and the continued funding for the forensics division of the Public Attorney's Office, among others.

Zarate, for his part, noted that lawmakers did not have enough time to scrutinize all the provisions of the bill given the haste with which deliberations were conducted.

He questioned the allocations for the police, military and Department of National Defense.

He also questioned the P8.2-billion allocation for the Office of the President, which includes P4.5 billion in confidential and intelligence funds.

Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., meanwhile, said the minority was conscious of the need for urgency with the need to scrutinize the budget.

He noted that some agencies and programs are "more deserving than others" and called for the scrapping of government agencies that are not needed such as the Philippine Competition Commission and National Irrigation Administration.

The proposed P4.1-trillion budget is 12-percent higher than the P3.662-trillion budget for 2019 and is equivalent to 19.4 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Congress leaders have assured Duterte of the speedy passage of the bill to avoid repeating the fate of the 2019 budget bill.

The 2019 budget was signed by Duterte only in mid-April because of a deadlock over supposed insertions and realignments by some lawmakers.

From January until the budget was signed, the government operated on a reenacted 2018 P3.767-trillion budget, causing the economy to slow down. (MVI/SunStar Philippines)


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