Last Oct. 16, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the P4.5-trillion proposed national budget for 2021. Yet as of today, it continues to tackle amendments via the so-called “small group.”
Art. VI, Sec. 26, Paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution is unequivocally clear, regardless of where the amendments will come from. Wala namang sinasabi ang Constitution na pag naghahabol ng “errata,” hindi ito applicable: “Upon the last reading of a bill, NO AMENDMENT THERETO SHALL BE ALLOWED, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal.”
Amid promises of “best efforts” to transmit the budget bill by end-October, if the House still ends up transmitting the bill on Nov. 5, does it mean that the description “House of the People” is all lip service?
In an interview on DZBB/GMA News TV, Sen. Lacson answered questions on: * effect of reenacted budget on COVID-19 response in 2021
* connection between DPWH lump sums and delay of budget bill in the House of Representatives
Between Oct. 12 and 14 when the Senate is originally scheduled to receive the transmittal of the General Appropriations Bill from the House of Representatives, and Nov. 17 when the Speaker said they will be able to transmit the same to us, is definitely not a one-day difference as claimed by Speaker Cayetano.
With that said, I have just suggested to the Speaker if it’s possible for him to resume their session, which is merely suspended and not adjourned, before All Saints’ Day just to approve on third and final reading the House version of the budget measure and thereafter transmit the same to us.
I also told him the senators, especially the finance committee vice chairpersons, need at least one week to study the House version and submit to the mother committee our reports. Another week will be needed for the finance committee to consolidate everything and file its committee report. In so doing, we can start floor debates immediately after we resume session on Nov. 16, or even before that.
That is the only way we can ensure the timely passage of the budget measure. We cannot afford an impasse involving the most important piece of legislation that Congress has to pass: the national budget, which I have consistently regarded as the lifeblood of our economy, if not our country.
In an interview on DZBB/GNTV, Sen. Lacson answered questions on:
* options on further actions regarding anomalies at PhilHealth
* possible use of questionable sums in DPWH budget to address budget shortage for health care in 2021
It is basic that once an infra project has started its implementation, it is already obligated. Hence, there can be no partial cash allocation, unless that project is discontinued, cancelled, or terminated. Then, the unused portion of the appropriation becomes savings that may be realigned. Or, if the project is covered by Multi Year Contractual Authority (MYCA), formerly known as MYOA or Multi Year Obligational Authority which is clearly spelled out and provided in the 2020 GAA, the same item can reappear in the succeeding budget year.
We were not born yesterday as far as budgeting is concerned.
In our continuing efforts to scrutinize the 2021 National Expenditure Program, particularly on the issue of “re-appropriations” and “lump sum appropriations” involving infrastructure projects under the DPWH, we have found that the initial amount of P73.5 billion covering 2,933 items has now ballooned to P135.8 billion involving 5,913 projects – thus effectively increasing the total questionable appropriations to P532.3 billion from the initial P469 billion that we exposed earlier, including lump sums in the amount of P396.4 billion.
Considering the projects under “Operations” in the proposed budget of the DPWH has total appropriations of P613.1 billion, easily 87 percent or P532.3 billion is deemed questionable.
Having said all that, a legal question needs to be addressed as we progress in our plenary budget deliberations: Will this kind of “errata” be allowed by the Senate, or Congress for that matter, if the items to be rectified do not involve simple typographical errors or other similar minor errors like interchanged or misplaced items in the NEP?
Therefore, if my colleagues will not allow such major rectification, we may see a 2021 GAA that is reduced by more than half a trillion pesos.