MANILA - House Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte confirmed on Sunday that he withdrew the 2020 Budget Bill from plenary deliberations last week because its filing was "premature."
Villafuerte, who was named co-author of House Bill 4228 or the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) along with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, said the House leadership does not want to risk “short-circuiting the legislative process."
This was after House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab said he had asked the committee secretariat to file the bill for first reading in the plenary last Wednesday, but was told that Villafuerte had withdrawn the bill.
"I do not have personal knowledge on the act of withdrawal on the floor and upon whose orders this was made," Ungab said in a statement.
Villafuerte meanwhile said he withdrew the bill after learning that Cayetano was made co-author of the measure without the Speaker's knowledge.
He also played down the withdrawal of the bill from the plenary session saying it "was not an issue" and was only "a procedural matter" as the House leadership remains committed to passing the budget on time.
Villafuerte added that several agencies had yet to finish presenting their 2020 budget proposals.
“Besides, we have the whole of September and most of October to take up the national budget bill, so there is no need for us to act on it with undue haste,” he added.
Cayetano also wants to avoid allegations that there were "insertions" in the budget they would pass, Villafuerte added.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda meanwhile said bill from the Appropriations Committee "was exactly" the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by Malacañang.
Salceda also said the withdrawal of the bill stalled momentum on the measure.
"Ongoing printing was stopped, bukas sana tapos na (it should have been finished by tomorrow) for distribution," Salceda said in a statement.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate meanwhile called for "a suspension of the budget deliberations until the 2020 GAB, as originally based from the NEP submitted by Malacañang is refiled."
Zarate also said the withdrawal of the budget bill "may be a prelude for pork barrel insertions."
"We also need to scrutinize the GAB that will be refiled to see if indeed more pork, amorphous lumpsum funds or intelligence and confidential funds have been added to the budget," Zarate said.
The passage of the 2019 budget was delayed by several months as members of Congress and the executive traded allegations of illegal insertions and budget manipulation in this year's spending program.
Economists blame the delayed budget for the slower growth of the Philippine economy.
- Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News