House approves 2020 national budget in record time

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 20 2019 09:11 PM | Updated as of Sep 21 2019 05:22 AM

Members of the House of Representatives deliberate on laws during the 18th Congress at the House of Representatives in Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City on Aug. 28, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (3rd UPDATE)—The House of Representatives on Friday approved the proposed P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget bill on its third and final reading, a process that was expedited upon the President's order.

After President Rodrigo Duterte certified House Bill 4228 as urgent on Thursday, legislators finished the second and the third readings on the same day, waiving the 3-day wait period between votes on the two readings.

Lawmakers who voted yes numbered 257, while there were 6 nays. No one abstained.

The House committee on rules said the speed at which the national budget was approved at this level is unprecedented. Duterte submitted the spending plan to Congress just last month.

Historically, budget bills are passed not earlier than October. This time, it took only 20 working days within a period of 30 days to get the job done in mid-September.

The 16th Congress passed the 2016 budget on Oct. 9, 2015, during President Benigno Aquino III's administration. Under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the 13th Congress greenlit the budget on Oct. 13, 2006.

The biggest chunk of the budget went to the Department of Education (DepEd) that stands to receive P673 billion, which is expected to fund state schools, among others.

The second highest appropriation went to the the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) (P534.3 billion), followed by the departments of the interior and local government (P238 billion), social welfare and development (P195 billion) and national defense (P189 billion).

Next year's spending priorities include Duterte's flagship program, "Build, Build, Build," full implementation of the Universal Health Care Act, smooth transition of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and institutionalization of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, also known as 4Ps.

Duterte on Thursday certified urgent House Bill 4228 or the proposed 2020 national budget and called for its immediate passage to “maintain continuous government operations.”

The government operated on a reenacted budget from January this year until the 2019 budget was signed last April, which slowed gross domestic product growth in the first half.

'RIDDLED WITH PORK'

The swift passage of the proposed budget, 2 weeks ahead of its October 4 deadline, was met with a few criticism.

Deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate slammed the chamber's hasty approval of the budget, which was dominated by pro-administration lawmakers.

"Kami ay tutol sa budget na para sa pagpatay, sa pagsikil sa karapatan ng mamamayan at ang budget na batbat ng pondong pork barrel," he said.

(We are against a budget that is intended to kill people, threatened human rights and riddled with pork barrel.)

Among those who opposed the budget's approval were Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Eufemia Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite; Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas; ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro and Kabataan party-list Sarah Elago.

Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda earlier said lawmakers were entitled to a P100-million allocation under the proposed 2020 national budget.

He said P70 million would be allotted for “hard” or infrastructure projects, while P30 million would be for “soft” projects such as medical and educational assistance.

Salceda denied the allocations are “pork” since the P100 million cannot be considered as a lump-sum amount.

House Appropriations Chairman and Davao City 3rd District Rep. Isidro Ungab, however, thanked his colleagues for passing the budget in record time.

"We were geared towards one goal and objective, that is the early passage of the 2020 national budget in order to ensure the completion of the existing programs, as well as the efficient implementation of new projects by the government departments and agencies, which will eventually translate to effective delivery of services by the government," he said.

'QUALITY BUDGET'

Despite criticisms, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano believed a quality budget was passed.

"Today the 18th Congress is very much alive. Our action and our faith in our country, democratic process, in the House of Representatives, and in our God All Mighty, led us to this day where we are able to pass a quality people’s budget in record time," he said in a speech.

Cayetano also called on lawmakers to continue to review and scrutinize the budget or even amend, if need be.

"So that we will have a 2020 budget that will fit the perfect vision of a safe and comfortable life for all Filipinos," he said.

Part of the budget will be used to buy palay or unhusked rice from farmers, make reforms in law enforcement and solve the worsening traffic, among others, Cayetano said.—With reports from RG Cruz and Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News