House approves 2021 national budget on final reading

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 16 2020 08:17 PM | Updated as of Oct 17 2020 12:29 PM

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — The House of Representatives on Friday approved on third and final reading the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.

The passage of the proposed national budget by the lower chamber was consistent with the commitment of the newly installed House Speaker to pass the 2021 national budget in time to prevent a reenacted one.

Capping 4 days of marathon deliberations, a total of 257 legislators voted in favor of House Bill No. 7727. Only 6 voted against the measure and no one abstained.

The lower chamber created a small committee to receive and resolve all individual amendments to the budget.

Lawmakers have until Monday, October 19th to submit their respective proposed amendments.

A soft copy of the budget bill will be submitted to the Senate by October 28.

In his closing remarks, House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco thanked House members for responding to the call of President Rodrigo Duterte to hold a special session to ensure the timely passage of the government’s spending plan for next year.

“We have provided every representative the opportunity to raise issues, clarify any misconceptions, and recommend how we can make the budget truly responsive to our current and pressing needs and conditions,” he said.

He said the 2021 national budget is “truly reflective and responsive to the needs of our people.”

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The third reading approval came minutes after the House passed the national budget on the second reading, marking the second consecutive year that the budget bill breezed through its second and third readings on the same day.

The agencies which received the biggest allocations were: Department of Education, P754.4 billion; Department of Public Works and Highways, P667.3 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government, P246.1 billion; Department of National Defense, P209.1 billion; Department of Health (DOH), P203.1 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development, P171.2 billion; Department of Transportation, P143.6 billion; Department of Agriculture, P66.4 billion; the Judiciary, P43.5 billion; and Department of Labor and Employment, P27.5 billion.

The DOH budget includes an initial P2.5 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines next year.

Velasco said the government will not have a reenacted budget by January next year.

“We will transmit without delay the approved bill to the Senate and give our counterparts sufficient time to likewise examine the national budget,” he said.

The Makabayan bloc meanwhile criticized the national budget proposal, saying the spending plan is full of anomalies and pork insertions.

Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas decried the "multiple infra-pork slices" in the budget bill which she said amounts to P397 billion, bigger than the spending plan of the health department amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Ang alokasyon na ito ay para lamang sa contruction, repair, at maintenance ng mga daan, tulay, at flood control projects – ni singko walang nakalaan sa pagpapagawa ng ospital at iba pang health facilities. Hiwalay pa ito sa nakakalulang P38-billion na pondo para sa Right-of-Way na bulnerable sa korapsyon at arbitrary spending," she said in a statement.

ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro also hit the proposed budget due to lack of allotments for important government programs, services and activities for the poor and marginalized sector.

"Kabilang dito ang budget sa edukasyon, walang substantial increase sa budget ng DepEd at puno ng budget cuts tulad ng Disaster Preparedness and Response Program, slashed by P256.5 million kahit may pandemya; Basic Education Facilities para sa additional classrooms, arm chairs, functional clinic, washing areas, comfort rooms, at iba pang school facilities, slashed by P5.360 million; Basic Education Curriculum, slashed by P.5069 million; Early Language Literacy and Numeracy, slashed by P19.597 million; School-Based Feeding Program, slashed by P500 million; at Zero budget sa Special Education Program para sa mga differently abled learners," she said.

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago also slammed the budget's alleged lack of funds for coronavirus response.

"Hindi sinasalamin ng nakalaang pondo para sa kalusugan ang kagyat na pangangailangan upang epektibong maka-responde laban sa COVID-19. Hindi man lang umabot sa 3 percent ng P4.5 [trillion]. Malayo sa rekomendasyon na 5 percent ng kabuuang budget ang dapat nakalaan sa kalusugan," she said.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar lauded the timely passage of the national budget at the House, saying it "will go a long way in helping support and realize the Duterte administration’s outlined undertakings, responses, and programs for our collective recovery from the adverse impacts of COVID-19."

He called on the Senate to act fast as the bill is set to be transmitted to the upper chamber.

"We hope that the Senate's deliberation on the 2021 GAB will be swift and efficient, in order for us to be on track towards fulfilling our mandate to the Filipinos and our goal of healing, rebounding, and recovering as one nation," he said in a statement Saturday.

- With reports from Vivienne Gulla and RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News