Congress ratifies ₱4.5-trillion nat’l budget for 2021

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — Both houses of Congress on Wednesday approved the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed ₱4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.

The budget measure is now up for signing into law by the President.

The bicam panel led by House appropriations committee chair Eric Yap and Senate finance committee chair Sonny Angara, reconciled the final version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill in their final meeting, a week after launching bicam deliberations.

House appropriations panel vice chair Joey Salceda also confirmed the bicam approval in a statement on Wednesday, assuring "almost no risk" of a reenacted budget.

"The ball will be in the President's court early, so there is almost no risk that we will face a delayed budget enactment this year. That can only mean well for 2021 economic recovery," he said.

Here are the top ten agencies with the highest chunk of budget allocations for next year under the bicam version.

Angara's camp, who provided the list of agencies to the media, earlier placed the Health Department as the sixth agency with the highest allocation worth ₱134.9 billion. It then placed the agency on the third spot in the updated list, adding ₱77 billion for DOH Corporations in the overall funding for the department.

Under the DOH budget, ₱2.5 billion were allotted for procuring vaccines. However, the total vaccine budget for 2021 is ₱72.5 billion, which includes the ₱70 billion worth of unprogrammed allocations which will only be available if the country exceeds its revenue collections or through approved loans, Angara said.

Salceda said apart from ₱1.1 trillion for infrastructure, the 2021 GAB also includes ₱7.6 billion in additional spending for adapting to the post-Covid life, including items on telecommunications enhancements.

Prior to the bicam approval, progressive lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc appealed Wednesday to the panel to reconsider defunding the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and realign its almost ₱19-billion budget to typhoon-hit victims.

"Let us not put these billions of taxpayers' money to waste by letting it be used as a pork barrel fund for spreading lies, fake news and red-tagging," the bloc said in a statement.

However, Yap and Angara told reporters the NTF-ELCAC funds remain intact.

Yap also earlier said some infrastructure projects were reallocated to government programs that can be finished within 2021, including those intended for hospitals, health facilities, and equipment. He also said district allocations for approved infrastructure projects cannot be equal due to the districts' different needs.

The congressman also noted that the panel already scrutinized "double entries" previously identified by Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and reallocated them in areas that are really in need of funding. Lacson later became the lone negative vote in the Senate against the ratification of the budget.

Angara said reconciling provisions took time, especially when the National Expenditure Program previously prepared did not foresee "things which are Covid-related and funding for additional calamity response."

This is a developing story.