By Charmaine A. Tadalan, March 6 2019; Business World
Image Credit to Philippine Star
REPRESENTATIVE Rolando G. Andaya said the Senate has requested a delay in the printing of the 2019 Budget, which he said could set back his “March 10 or 11” timetable for transmitting the document to Malacañang, though he welcomed the opportunity to clarify which Senators backed certain amendments to the P3.757 trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Mr. Andaya, who represents the first district of Camarines Sur and chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a briefing Wednesday: “We are ready to print the budget. We had planned for it to be in Malacañang around March 10 or March 11, but we received word from the Senate, requesting to hold off on printing.” He added that he expects to meet with the Senate Finance Committee after the briefing to “thresh out the problems.”
“Good for us also because we also want to complete the picture. We have no idea up to this point who the proponents of the Senate amendments are. We are also in the dark about who are behind the amendments,” he said.
The budget process has been the subject of competing claims about improper last-minute fund diversions concerning the Department of Health (DoH) budget, thus modifying the version of the measure ratified by the bicameral conference committee.
Mr. Andaya said Tuesday that the delays in transmitting the GAB to Malacañang were due to a process of “itemization” for certain lump-sum amounts. During this time he also projected that the budget will reach the Palace by March 10, before the intervention of the Senate.
He said there is nothing “illegal” and “unconstitutional” about the itemization process.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson has alleged that the delays were due to the “manipulation” of DoH funding.
“To hold the budget hostage now is not right… but by mid-year I’m sure the people will call for transparency, and we have the data with us, and we’re willing to show it once the enrolled bill has been submitted,” he said.
Mr. Andaya said the ratified GAB allocated a P15 billion lump-sum for the Health Facilities and Enhancement Program (HFEP), of which P4.5 billion is for the House of Representatives, P2 billion for the Senate and P8.5 billion for the DoH.
“There were no details whatsoever on how these funds would be distributed to the various hospitals,” he said. “It now behooves both Houses to identify where these funds are going.”
He said the itemization process is based on program identification documents provided by the DoH. The DoH menu for the HFEP includes equipment, medical mobile transport, or completion, repair or rehabilitation of health stations, rural health units, and district hospitals among others.
Outgoing Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, appointed this week to head the central bank, said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) will not intervene in the budget process until it is transmitted to the President.
“We will intervene once we get the budget, the enrolled copy of the budget,” he said in a briefing Wednesday. “That’s why all these changes in the House and Senate — we don’t even comment on it. It only (starts with) the enrolled copy of the bill, and that’s where we go over it line by line. (Then we come up with a) statement of difference.”
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Andaya said he will leave it to the next Congress to investigate Mr. Diokno’s role in the budget process, amid allegations he intervened to supplement some regions’ funding for flood control projects.
“I think I’ve accepted the fact (that the investigation will be conducted) some other time (by) some other person, maybe in the next Congress. These things have a way of coming back,” he said.
Mr. Diokno was named the replacement to the late Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. — Charmaine A. Tadalan