Senate approves ₱4.1-trillion 2020 budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 27) — A unanimous Senate approved Wednesday the proposed ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

The Senate, voting 22-0, passed next year’s fiscal plan on third and final reading right after it passed it on second reading, since President Rodrigo Duterte certified the measure as urgent.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the budget on September 20.

Representatives from both chambers of Congress will now meet in a bicameral conference committee, which will thresh out differences in the Senate and House versions of the budget.

Malacañang welcomed the passage of the budget, adding that it hopes the measure would not be delayed due to "prolonged partisan discussion."

It also said Duterte will carefully scrutinize the appropriations bill.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri previously said that he hopes that the bicameral conference committee would finish reconciling the two versions by the first week of December, so it can be sent to Duterte for his approval.

According to the office of Senate Finance committee chair Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, among the amendments made by senators to the budget is a ₱32-billion increase for the fifth tranche of the Salary Standardization Law. They also provided a ₱3.173-billion budget for government nurses to get a salary hike of more than ₱9,000 per month.

Funding for the Philippine General Hospital and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) was also increased by ₱644 million and ₱150 million respectively. The added budget for the VMMC will be used to buy medicine and for the hiring of workers.

Angara said they also increased the Health department's budget to support its vaccination drive, after cases of several vaccine-preventable diseases surged in the country this year.

The Education department's Last Mile Schools program got ₱6 billion, while state universities and colleges got a ₱1.158-billion increase. Senators also increased the department's quick response fund for the repair and electrification of schools.

The Senate provided the Philippine Army with P920 million for the activation of an infantry division, which is expectad to directly address the threat of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. It also increased funding for the Defense department and the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Headquarters for the anti-insurgency campaign.

A part of the additional ₱1.529 billion given for the Philippine National Police will also be allotted for its campaign to end local communist groups, Angara said. Parts of the additional funding will also be used for the police's intelligence and counter-intelligence activities and the maintenance of equipment.

Senators also moved to increase funding for state universities and colleges by P1.158-billion for their research programs, the conduct of sports and cultural activities, and the construction of new buildings and facilities.

They also included a special provision in the budget that would allow excess rice tariff revenues to be used as aid for farmers who were hit by low palay (unhusked rice) prices.

The House has previously realigned ₱9.52 billion in the 2020 budget from the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Commission on Elections to increase the budgets of 12 government agencies.

The 2020 budget cleared both houses of Congress earlier this year, unlike in 2019 when the spending plan was delayed over allegations of anomalous insertions by lawmakers.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, among the key figures in last year’s clashes over the budget, has said that the 2020 budget is “pork free,” but warned of possible insertions when the spending plan reaches the bicameral conference committee.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas and Ina Andolong contributed to this report.