Senate, House fast-track national budget bill

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 13 2010 11:16 PM | Updated as of Dec 14 2010 07:16 AM

MANILA, Philippines - For the first time in over 10 years, leaders of Congress are eyeing the passage of a national budget bill into law on time before the start of the year it is supposed to take effect.
The co-chairs of the bicameral conference panels reconciling the versions of the Senate and House of Representatives approved the bicameral report on Monday, paving the way for the ratification of both chambers of the reconciled bill.
The Senate ratified its version Monday while the lower House will ratify it on Tuesday, according to Senate Finance Committee chair Franklin Drilon and House Appropriations Committee chair Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya. 
Drilon said that if the bill is ratified by both chambers of Congress in time, President Benigno Aquino III can sign the law for the 2011 national budget after Christmas.
Drilon and Abaya met with members of the panel Monday to explain the details.
Abaya said the House will ratify the budget Tuesday because it has to tackle the amnesty concurrence resolution Monday. The Senate concurred with the amnesty last week.
 “We were supposed to pass the amnesty proclamation tonight, so we’re just creating enough buffer so
I think we still have time, but the schedule is Tuesday,“ he said.
Both Drilon and Abaya said there were no major cuts or major realignments in the reconciled version. 
Abaya said the budget is essentially the General Appropriations Bill that was first filed in Congress.
The bicameral conference panels, meanwhile, addressed some concerns. 
These include the restoration of the maintenance and operating and other expenses (MOOE) for capital expenditures of state universities and colleges to the same levels as in the 2010 budget. 
The 2010 MOOE for SUCs amounts to P140 million, excluding capital outlay that got no new budget.
Progressive students groups were seeking a P1.1-billion budget for the public education sector.
The panels also kept the budget for the Philippine Truth Commission intact despite the recent ruling of the Supreme Court invalidating its creation.
The budget for the P21-billion conditional cash transfer program and the Public Works Department’s allotment were also retained.
Abaya revealed that the budget for family planning will not be cut as earlier reported. He, however, could not yet give the final amount.
He hopes that everyone will be happy with the budget.
Drilon, meanwhile, said Congress essentially decided to support the administration in passing the budget. 
He, however, warned that should the administration fail to deliver results next year, Congress may not be as supportive when the government makes its budget proposal for 2012. – With a report from Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News