By Butch Fernandez, January 22 2019; Business Mirror


Image Credit to Business Mirror

THE Senate, voting 14-0, on Monday passed the Palace-proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 budget bill, paving the way for bicameral talks with the House of Representatives to quickly hammer out a reconciled Senate-House version of the annual money measure.

The goal is to have the reconciled version signed into law by President Duterte soon, cutting short the period that the government would have to operate on a reenacted 2018 national budget.

Immediately after the vote, the Senate leadership confirmed the designation of the 10-member Senate panel in upcoming bicameral talks with the House. They are Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Finance Committee Chairman Loren Legarda, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Cynthia Villar, Panfilo Lacson Sr., Paolo “Bam” Aquino, Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay and Joseph Victor Ejercito.

“Hopefully, by this afternoon we would have approval of the amendments,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in an earlier interview Monday before convening their plenary session for the week.

Reporting that the additional budget amendments were submitted over the last four days, Sotto added: “Of course, there were amendments that were already proposed weeks ago, but we will finalize all of them in a while. I am sure there would be voting to accept or reject these amendments today; we will leave it up to the individual senators on how they view them.”

“Right after the amendments,” the Senate President said he would “call for a plenary vote to approve the budget bill on second and third reading so we can convene the bicameral panel either tonight or tomorrow.”

Still, the Senate President voiced confidence that the bicameral panel can opt to fast-track the process. “Hopefully, we can ratify the budget bill soon and it will be ready for the signature of the President, except that it will take some time to be ready for signing because it takes a lot of time and documents to be finalized. Mahaba, printing pinakamabigat [It’s long, printing such a heavy document takes time].”

P16 billion restored for DOH

In explaining why she voted to approve the proposed 2019 national  government budget on third and final hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the measure “fully restores the budget of the Department of Health (DOH), particularly the budget of the department’s Health Human Resources Deployment (HHRD) and Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP).”

The restoration of that P16.8-billion had been a sticking point among lawmakers who cited the severe challenges in providing for adequate health and medical services especially n public hospitals.

“The restoration of the DOH’s budget would ensure the continuation of key programs such as cancer control and the deployment of doctors, nurses, dentists and midwives to rural areas and poor communities needed for the challenging task to provide universal health care for all,” Hontiveros said in her explanation of vote.

As a health advocate, this is an important character of the 2019 budget.

Hontiveros was gladdened by her peers’ acceptance of her  proposed general and special provisions “on the inclusion of the Resettlement Policy Framework and income restoration to benefit affected families” dislocated by the Build, Build, Build Program.

However, Hontiveros expressed sadness that “in the past two weeks, the disposition of a P 75 billion worth of projects deemed inserted in the budget has caused conflict among many. It highlighted how fragile our democracy is and how hard-won budget reforms could easily be rolled back in favor of the old system of patronage.”

She added, “I trust that the Senate will have the wisdom to know the right disposition of the P 75 B. I also hope further that a reenacted budget will not happen again.”

Besides restoring the P16.8-billion budget in DOH, the Senate version as approved had also deleted the P75 billion allegedly inserted into the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The monies were to be realigned to social services and local infrastructure projects.