By Jovee Marie de la Cruz, October 20, 2020; Business Mirror

THE House of Representatives on Monday introduced a total of P20 billion in “institutional amendments” to the P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Bill to increase funding for Covid-19 vaccine, displaced workers and Internet connection for public schools.

House Committee on Appropriations Senior Vice Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda, in a news conference, said the small committee meeting, tasked to thresh out all the amendments to the proposed national budget, finished deliberating on all the amendments in one hearing on Monday, October 19.

With this, Salceda said the probability of a budget reenactment is now “zero.”

“The House version of the 2021 budget is now ready for submission to the Senate as the small group had the consensus…. We only considered institutional amendments and departmental errata. All individual amendments [will be tackled] during the bicameral conference committee meeting with the Senate,” Salceda added.

“[These institutional amendments will] empower the government to confront socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic and restore the Philippines as a nation state to its trajectory of growth, maintain macroeconomic stability and make growth gains sustainable,” he added.

According to Salceda, the P20 billion will be taken from the unprogrammed funds of the Department of Transportation.

Of the P20 billion, Salceda said P5.5 billion will be allocated for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccine, P300 million to implement the mental health program and P2 billion for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program.

Salceda said the institutional amendments also include P4 billion for the Tulong Panghanap Buhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program of the Department of Labor and Employment and P2 billion for the Department of Social and Welfare and Development to assist Filipino families critically impacted by the pandemic.

He said P1.7 billion will be added to the Department of Education budget to provide Internet connection for public schools.

Also, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will get an additional P100 million and Philippine National Oil Co., P400 million, for renewable energy and energy sufficiency programs.

Salceda said P2 billion will be added to the budget of the Philippine National Police-Department the the Interior and Local Government and P2 billion for the Armed Forces of the Philippines for acquisition of two C-130 airplanes.


Meanwhile, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Monday assured a “pork-free” P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Bill.

“Let me assure you that there is no pork in the budget,” Velasco said in a TV interview.

Velasco added the small committee has implemented institutional amendments as many departments and agencies were asking for bigger budgets.

“After that, the budget will be forwarded and transmitted to the Senate and then after that there is also still the bicam,” Velasco added.

Moreover, Velasco confirmed that the House will transmit the 2021 budget to the Senate by October 28.

“We agreed on October 28, best effort of the House. But October 28 can actually be made October 30. But I believe [House Committee on Appropriations] Chairman Eric Yap has already committed that we will transmit the budget by October 28,” he added.

The House approved on final reading on October 16 the proposed national budget for 2021.

For his part, Ang Probinsyano Rep. Alfred delos Santos, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, said the House will fast-track the budget process to give the Senate enough time to work on the budget bill.

“We are very happy that it already finished at the third reading and [at the small committee]. Our goal is always to fast-track the process to help our fellow Filipinos. We know that these are not normal times, and we want to meet the needs of our countrymen immediately,” Delos Santos said.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said the whole world has adjusted to the new normal and this resulted in a lot of modifications in priorities, including legislative policies.

Delos Santos said that the whole government cannot afford a reenacted budget especially with the drastic change brought by the pandemic.

“We want to assure that all government agencies have enough resources for them to be able to function in the new normal,” said Delos Santos, saying the 2021 budget is pro people and responsive to the current needs of the country.

“That is why I am very happy that the 2021 national budget is very responsive to the needs of the Philippines. There have been a lot of deliberations with various government agencies for that, so we are happy that [needs] will not be ignored,” he said.