The bicameral conference committee on the proposed P4.506-trillion 2021 national budget got off to a good start Tuesday as members from the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to come up with a reconciled final version of the spending plan before Congress adjourns on Dec. 19, a House official said on Tuesday.
House contingent chair ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Yap, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, was authorized by his fellow congressmen to hold a one-on-one meeting with his Senate counterpart, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, to thresh out differences in the separate versions of the two legislative chambers.
Yap said both the House and Senate contingents agreed on the need to conclude the bicam deliberations this week to avert having the government operate under a reenacted budget by January.
“Our goal is to finish the budget this week, by Friday,” Yap said during the bicam meeting held at Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City. “Our goal is ultimately the same: to have appropriate funding for COVID-19 vaccines and to allocate budget for regions severely affected by calamities.”
Yap also maintained there were no irregularities in the 2021 general appropriations bill, particularly on the infrastructure project allocations for legislative districts nationwide.
“All I see are multi-purpose buildings that can be converted into quarantine facilities. I see a budget for building necessary infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. The rest are road networks, valid projects under President Rodrigo Duterte’s Build Build Build program,” Yap said.
Yap said he is optimistic the Senate could accommodate Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s request for a P5 billion increase in calamity fund for the reconstruction of areas devastated by recent typhoons, as well as additional funding for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
Barring any hiccup, Yap said the budget bill should reach the President’s desk within three weeks after the bicam deliberation is completed this week.
“We will need three to five days to encode any amendments, then another week to print the budget,” Yap said.
“We are hoping for this to be a Christmas present to the President and ultimately, the Filipino people,” he added.
Angara said he hopes the Senate and House of Representatives will be able to ratify next week the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.
“It’s very tricky to put a timeline on legislation but what’s good about this is we have enough time,” said Angara as the congressional bicameral conference committee convened to tackle the national budget.
He recalled that last year, it took them a little over a week to ratify the budget,
“So if we budget the same, hopefully by next week this can be ratified,” he said.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are hoping to finalize the proposed budget by Dec. 4.
Once the bicam settles the disagreeing provisions in the Senate and House versions of the 2021 budget, both chambers have to ratify the measure before it can be sent to the Office of President Rodrigo Duterte for his approval.
Among the amendments to be pushed by the House contingent to the bicam is a P5 billion increase to the 2021 budget’s calamity fund due to the damage wrought by recent typhoons.