MANILA, Philippines - House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said Thursday they are eyeing to pass the 2011 national budget before the year ends, with the pork barrel intact.
Belmonte made this announcement a day after the House of Representatives received the proposed measure from the Budget and Management Department.
Total spending of P1.7 trillion has been proposed for 2011, up 5% from P1.62 trillion this year.
Belmonte expects the House Committee on Appropriations, which will be chaired by Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, to start budget hearings by September.
Belmonte said budget deliberations should be well advanced by the time Congress goes on recess for All Saints' Day middle of October.
"We received a copy of the budget. [The] Appropriations Committee [will] start first week of September on budget and it's our hope by the time the Congress goes on recess [on] October 15, we have essentially advanced in consideration of the budget. It's our hope the budget is finally approved before end of year so it is signed by the President before end of the year."
Belmonte said the Senate can also start parallel hearings. "They also have copy of budget so they can hasten proceedings. We will target end of 2010 as conclusion of passage of the bill for 2011."
Belmonte said he, Abaya, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Franklin Drilon of the Finance Committee met with President Aquino Thursday morning to discuss the budget.
"We talked to the President. He requested the four of us who were there... to expedite action on bill."
Belmonte also said President Aquino promised to honor the Congressional pork barrel fund, which will be released to all lawmakers, including those of the opposition, led by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
"PDAF (priority development assistance fund) provision is well defined, all covered and has been placed for transparency. We will honor PDAF. Rest assured I, as speaker, 'di ko sila lalamangan. We can't take punitive action by way of removing what's rightfully belonging to district. Baka di na kailangan ni GMA ng pork, pero pagkinuha niya, it will be given to her. [The] very reason we had pork barrel is that it is a great equalizer so even districts not part of national infrastructure program will benefit from the PDAF of the congressmen."
Belmonte expressed satisfaction that the standing committees of the House are already constituted and functioning, just 30 days after the 15th Congress opened.
"Within 30 days from SONA the House has fully organized itself. Some important committees were filled up yesterday -- the CA, HRET and the ethics committee."
Belmonte, meanwhile, expressed optimism that the House's approval ratings will go up, with improved output and plenary attendance of members.