Bicam to ‘amicably resolve’ 2020 budget issues behind closed doors

MANILA, Philippines – The chairpersons of the House and Senate committees on the proposed P4.1-trillion budget in 2020 will meet one-on-one to “amicably” reconcile conflicting provisions in their respective versions of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB). 

This was the decision of the bicameral conference committee during its first meeting on the 2020 GAB on Friday, November 29, at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City. 

It was Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, an independent minority congressman, who made the motion to allow House committee on appropriations chair Isidro Ungab and Senate committee on finance chair Juan Edgardo Angara to convene behind closed doors. 

“Consistent with tradition, I move that the bicameral conference committee authorizes the chairman of the Senate panel and the chairman of the House panel to meet one-on-one and then amicably resolve differing provisions of the Senate version as well as the House version, and also consider to consider possible amendments not yet included in the House version and the Senate,” the veteran lawmaker said. 

His motion was accepted by both the House and Senate contingents to the bicam, which immediately terminated their meeting on Friday.

This means the House and the Senate will swap their respective lists of proposed realignments under the 2020 budget.  

Both houses will then meet on their own to study the proposed budget realignments over the weekend. The bicam is expected to meet again as a whole by Tuesday, December 3.  

Ungab, who previously served as House appropriations chair in the 16th Congress, said this has long been the practice of the bicam when dealing with the proposed annual national budget. 

“[It’s] normal, normal. At tsaka (And) per my experience, I had been vice chairman for 3 years and this is my 4th year as  chairman, 'yon din talaga 'yong ginagawa (this is usually the process),” the Davao City 3rd District congressman told Rappler.

Earlier this year, the previous 17th Congress decided to hold the bicam meetings in public after the months-long budget deadlock that saw lawmakers clash with themselves and the executive branch because of the multiple accusations of illegal budget insertions.  

The government was forced to reenact the 2018 budget in the first quarter of this year until President Rodrigo Duterte signed the 2019 budget into law in April. Duterte affixed his signature only after he vetoed P95.3 billion worth of allocations under the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has made it his crusade to call out pork-like insertions in the national budget, said holding the closed-door meeting between Ungab and Angara would ensure the bicam’s discussions would be more organized this year. 

“I manifested for transparency din (too), they will submit to us through our chairman all the new amendments not yet included in the House version. In the same manner, we will also submit to them new amendments not included in the Senate version and we’ll study [it],” Lacson said.   

“We’ll refer back to our house, they refer back to their house. And at least, ma-li-limit na lang namin don sa mga contentious na mga amendments or issues ang discussion, para hindi sabog (And at least, we can limit the discussions on the contentious amendments or issues, so it’s not disorganized),” he added. 

Lacson wanted the 2020 bicam meetings be open made open to the public for transparency.

The 18th Congress has to submit the ratified bicam report on the 2020 budget by mid-December to give Duterte ample time to study and sign the bill into law by December 31. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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