Voting 22-0, the Senate on Thursday approved the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 on third and final reading.
Senate finance committee chairperson Senator Juan Edgardo Angara asserted the national spending plan would be the budget of the country’s recovery.
He thanked his colleagues for staying on schedule despite the serious challenges that included typhoons, floods, power outages, connectivity problems and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
He also acknowledged the amendments introduced by his colleagues to strengthen the COVID-19 response, provide assistance to victims of calamities and resuscitate the economy.
Angara said they set aside a “huge amount in unprogrammed appropriations” for the purchase, storage, and distribution of coronavirus vaccines.
He said they also allotted funds under the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s budget to recruit and deploy support contact tracers.
Under the Senate version of the budget bill, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine will get more funds for its quality assurance program, the training of more COVID-19 lab personnel, and its surveillance of other flu-like illnesses and severe and acute respiratory infections.
House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco welcomed the Senate’s passage of the budget bill.
“We now look forward to sitting with our Senate counterparts in conference possibly starting next week to come up with a common version of the budget,” Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said as he lauded the Senate for what he described as a “timely” passage.
“We have already formed a contingent composed of 21 members from various political parties to represent the House during the bicameral conference on the 2021 budget bill,” he added.
Velasco said that the House under his leadership will make sure there will be enough funds for the government’s COVID-19 response, especially the procurement of vaccines for an initial 20 million poor Filipinos and eventually for at least 60 million of the country’s population.
“We also want to ensure sufficient funding for the rehabilitation and recovery of communities devastated by recent typhoons, including Rolly and Ulysses. We should help our people rebuild their lives,” Velasco said.
“Let us also not forget President Duterte’s other priority programs like Build, Build, Build and his anti-poverty projects. We must appropriate the funds needed to sustain them,” he added.
Velasco expressed confidence that the 2021 general appropriations bill will be signed by the President before the year ends.
Meanwhile, ousted Speaker and Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano urged his fellow legislators to ensure that the public is informed of the House- and Senate-approved versions of the budget bill and the final draft approved at the bicameral conference committee level.
He said this would ensure that no unconstitutional insertions were made after the budget is approved by the bicameral conference committee.
“In order to avoid baseless mudslinging, my proposal is for the people to see where the funds are allocated or whether additions are made before the budget is approved in the bicameral. This is to make it all transparent. Otherwise, we can be in for a shock,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano made the statement after he was asked by the media about the President’s assertion that some lawmakers were getting kickbacks on government infrastructure projects.
Cayetano said publishing both versions of the budget bill will also allow the media to know what to tell the public as part of their duty to report on allegations of corruption by some members of Congress.
He recalled that as Speaker, he led the House of Representatives in the swift passage of the 2020 national budget, leaving no opportunity for pork, corruption, or parking of funds. “We prohibited that when I was Speaker and we had many caucuses for the purpose. I told the House members, ‘In order not to drag everyone down, anyone who gets caught will not be protected. No one will be helped or condoned.”
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