House ‘small committee’ OKs ₱20-B amendments in 2021 national budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 19) - A "small committee” in the House of Representatives has approved ₱20-billion worth of amendments to the ₱4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, which will include additional funding for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines and other pandemic responses.

“The small group had a consensus to consider only constitutional amendments and departmental errata. And consider individual amendments only during the bicam,” said Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, the House Ways and Means Committee chairperson, adding that the chamber is ready to transmit the amended spending bill to the Senate on Oct. 28.

The ₱20-billion realignment is broken down as follows:

.₱5.5 billion for the purchase of vaccines against COVID-19

.₱4 billion for the Department of Labor and Employment to help displaced workers

.₱2 billion for the Department of Health’s facilities enhancement program

.₱2 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to fund the purchase of police mobility assets

.₱2 billion for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ C-130 planes

.₱2 billion to aid families affected by the pandemic

.₱1.7 billion for the Department of Education

.₱500 million for the Energy Regulatory Commission and Philippine National Oil Company

.₱300 million as additional funding for DOH’s mental health program

Salceda said the chamber sourced the ₱20 billion by shifting the budget from some of the Department of Transportation’s foreign-funded projects into unprogrammed funds.

He added that the department can still proceed with the projects when there are already notices of loan proceeds.

“Ang DOTr po, ang kanilang projects ay foreign funded, so shinift lang namin sa unprogrammed. Para 'pag dumating po, halimbawa, dumating 'yung mga makina galing Japan eh ibinu-book lang naman 'yan. So in other words, they can still continue their, yung kanila pong projects because funds will be released,” he said.

[Translation: The projects of DOTR are foreign-funded, so we decided to shift the funds into unprogrammed ones. For example, once the machine from Japan arrived, it will just be booked. So in other words, they can still continue their projects because funds will be released.]

The lower chamber recently approved on third and final reading House Bill 7727 or the General Appropriations Bill for 2021 during the last day of the four-day special session.

Meanwhile, House Committee on Appropriations chairperson Eric Yap defended the introduction of amendments to the national budget for next year. He noted that only the proposed amendments of government agencies have been allowed by the small committee.

“Since na-certify as urgent 'yung budget, after deliberation, second and third reading, at may small group kami ng iilan para bigyan kami ng one to two days, 'yung mga amendments ipasok na ng agency, at pag-aralan namin kung valid ba ito o hindi and then encode ito for five days,” he said.

[Translation: Since the budget was certified as urgent, after the deliberation on second and third reading and we have a small group so we can have a day or two, the agency can insert their amendments. We will study if they are valid or not and then encode it for five days.]

“Gusto ko lang i-assure ang taumbayan na kung ano 'yung changes na ginagawa natin dito sa amendments is agency-initiated amendments,” Yap added.

[Translation: I want to assure everyone that whatever changes we are doing in these amendments, they are agency-initiated amendments.]

Presumption of regularity

Senate leaders, on the other hand, have chosen to presume regularity in the ₱20-billlion worth of amendments in the national budget.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that there’s nothing wrong with the amendments made by the House small committee if they were done before the approval on third reading last week.

“If they manifested to do that before they approved on third reading, subject to style, then it’s possible,” he said. “It means they approved it in principle.”

“As they submit to us, we will of course presume regularity,” Sotto added.

Senate Committee on Finance chairperson Sonny Angara also shared the same sentiment.

“We presume regularity given it’s a co-equal House and we know that House leaders know the procedures outlined in the Constitution and will comply with such,” he said.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel and multi-platform news writer Vince Ferreras contributed to this report