2021 budget deliberations to shift online as Senate tackles spending bill under new normal

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2020 12:24 PM

The Senate adopted a resolution to allow them to conduct sessions and hearings through teleconference or video-conference during national emergencies, May 4, 2020. Henzberg Austria, Senate PRIB

MANILA - Senate Committee on Finance chair Sen. Sonny Angara on Monday said deliberations for the 2021 budget may be done online as the Senate building is expected to be placed on a lockdown to heed the call of health workers for a "time out."

Technical adjustments may have to be done as the Senate is "committed" to approving the proposed P4.506 trillion national budget for 2021 on time under the new normal, Angara said.

"We may have to do more online meetings in lieu of face-to-face budget hearings where the rooms are packed," he told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

"We don’t want a repeat of 2019 when government had to operate on a reenacted 2018 national budget for five months, which led to serious delays in the implementation of key programs and projects and slower GDP growth," he said in a separate statement.

The Senate usually begins discussing the annual spending bill in late August, but Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that the chamber may impose a 2-week lockdown this month to help deter the possible spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has left Philippine hospitals congested and frontliners overworked.

Should there be a need to hold "actual physical hearings," the committee "will have to limit the number of people in the room to observe distancing," Angara said.

The 2021 budget - which is 9.9 percent higher than this year’s budget - is expected to focus on "investing for resiliency and sustainability," Angara said.

"The key word here is resiliency. We need to demonstrate that our economy can remain robust in spite of the severe challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

"In the proposed 2021 budget, we expect to see programs that will jumpstart economic activity while also strengthening our healthcare system so that we will be able to respond better in future crises," he said.

Angara did not give an exact target date on when the Senate eyes to pass the spending bill on final reading, noting that the measure must emanate from the House of Representatives.

Under Congress' rules, all local and budget bills should first be approved in the House of Representatives before the Senate can tackle the measure in plenary.