By Charmaine A. TadalanReporter
THE SENATE on Wednesday approved on second as well as third and final reading its version of the P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020, putting the spending on track to year-end enactment.
With 22 affirmative votes and no negative vote, the chamber approved Committee Report No. 18, which has differences with House Bill No. 4228, or the “General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020.”
Upon returning from a resort in the Maldives President Rodrigo R. Duterte certified the bill as an urgent measure, allowing both chambers to do away with the required three-day interval in approving measures on second- and third-reading.
The Senate contingent in the bicameral conference committee will be led by Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara with the following as members: Senators Panfilo M. Lacson, Cynthia A. Villar, Pia S. Cayetano, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, Christopher Lawrence T. Go, Richard J. Gordon, Imee R. Marcos, Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva, Ralph G. Recto, Nancy S. Binay, Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, Franklin M. Drilon, Francis N. Pangilinan, and Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel.
The spending plan was approved by the House of Representatives on Sept. 20 and was transmitted to the Senate on Oct. 1. Both chambers are working to prevent a repeat of the nearly four month delay in enactment of the national budget for this year.
Prior to its approval, Mr. Angara, who chairs the Finance committee, moved to increase the P67.31-billion appropriation for state universities and colleges (SUCs) by P1.158 billion and the P1.85-billion budget of the Philippine National Police by P1.529 billion.
“We also provided additional funding for our SUCs to provide for an increase for their research programs, the conduct of sports- and culture-related activities, and new buildings and facilities,” Mr. Angara said during the period of amendments. “The Philippine National Police will also receive more funds: for its efforts to restore peace in the countryside, for the Intelligence and Counter Intelligence activities of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group and Internal Security Operations.”
The increase is also intended to fund maintenance of newly procured H125 Helicopter, patrol vehicles, rubber boats and high speed tactical watercraft, newly completed police stations and crime laboratories and provincial mobile force companies, among others.
The chamber also provided additional funding to the Philippine Army, amounting to P920 million for the activation of the first infantry division and a P150 million increase in the Veteran Memorial Medical Center budget for procuring medicines and employing additional workers.
To recall, Mr. Duterte signed the 2019 national budget on April 15 due to an impasse on funding framework between the House and the Department of Budget and Management, and later with the Senate on irregular fund insertions. He vetoed some P95.3 billion appropriations, reducing the 2019 budget to P3.662 trillion.
The budget delay has weighed on economic growth, which slowed to 5.8% in the first three quarters from 6.2% last year against a 6-7% target for 2019.
Both chambers have moved to extend the validity of the 2019 budget until Dec. 31, 2020 to make up for the budget delay and the ban on new public works ahead of the May 13 midterm elections.
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By Charmaine A. TadalanReporter