MANILA, Philippines – A day before the House plenary tackles the proposed 2020 budget, lawmakers are still negotiating for the return of the P95 billion funds that were vetoed in this year’s General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
But House committee on appropriations chairperson Isidro Ungab is putting his foot down.
“Malalaki eh. 'Yong iba, amount to billions ang natanggal per district. So I have to be frank na mahirap talaga ma-entertain [‘yong mga request nila]. Kasi kung ipasok 'yan, the department na mababawasan [ang] maapektuhan,” Ungab told reporters on Monday, September 9.
(We’re talking about big amounts here. Some of them had billions removed per district. So I have to be frank and say that it’s tough to entertain all their requests. If we will insert all their requests, the department from which the funds will be taken would suffer.)
The Davao City 3rd District representative previously said about 68 lawmakers were pushing to reallocate P70 billion to P90 billion under the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020 to mostly benefit infrastructure projects in their respective districts.
But "reallocting" or moving funds around will not be easy, as giving additional budget to another project would mean the removal of allocations from another.
Most of these funds that lawmakers want to bring back are from the P95.3 billion worth of allocations under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) that President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed in the 2019 budget.
Multiple accusations of illegal budget insertions hounded the 2019 budget, causing a months-long delay in its passage and leading to the government reenacting the 2018 budget in the first quarter of 2019.
Duterte was able to approve the 2019 budget only in April, but he made sure to veto the controversial multi-billion funds under DPWH.
The government's economic team said the delay in resolving the budget impasse in the first quarter of 2019 hurt the government's poverty reduction efforts and kept around 420,000 Filipinos poor.
Now, legislators want the slashed funds back in the 2020 budget, but Ungab is appealing for their patience. He said the appropriations committee would find a way to increase allocations for certain infrastructure projects that truly need the extra funding.
“So makikiusap tayo sa kanila na 'wag lang ipilit and don’t be so impatient. We will do our best na 'yong mga projects, which are very important [ay mabibigyan ng pera],” said Ungab.
(So we are appealing to them not to insist on everything and don’t be so impatient. We will do our best so that their projects which are very important will get the budget.)
He also plans to set a meeting with the executive branch to possibly propose the creation of a supplemental budget that could augment the funding for certain infrastructure projects like farm-to-market roads, road convergence areas, and tourism roads.
‘Nothing to hide’ during an executive session?
On Monday afternoon, Ungab had to call for an executive session or closed-door meeting when the appropriations panel approved its committee report on the 2020 GAB or House Bill No. 4228.
The approval signals the end of the budget hearings at the committee level and the beginning of the plenary deliberations of the 2020 budget.
Ungab, however, said lawmakers had nothing to hide during their meeting that was closed off from the public.
“Actually wala namang tinatago (Actually we have nothing to hide), but that has been the practice ever since through the years,” said the congressman.
In the House, however, the approval of committee reports are usually done during public hearings.
The plenary deliberations are set to kick off on Tuesday, September 10, at 1 pm. The House will be extending its 3-day session days to Thursdays and Fridays while the 2020 budget is being tackled in the plenary.
The lower chamber is aiming to pass the 2020 GAB on 3rd and final reading before the 18th Congress takes a break in October. – Rappler.com