MANILA (UPDATE) - The House of Representatives will transmit the 2021 budget to the Senate by next week, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said, as he assured senators that there will be no pork insertions to the spending bill.
The House was originally targeting to transmit the final version of the General Appropriations Bill by November 5, but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that would make it hard for them to pass it on time, recalled Velasco.
"We agreed on October 28, best effort of the House. But October 28 can actually be made October 30. But I believe Chairman Eric Yap has already committed that we will transmit the budget by October 28," he told ANC's Headstart.
House lawmakers passed the GAB on final reading on Friday, after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the spending bill as urgent, but it would take the National Printing Office days to print copies of the multivolume bill.
The P4.5-trillion budget for 2021 includes funds for the coronavirus pandemic response. Delaying its passage may lead to a reenacted 2020 spending plan, which has no provisions to address the ongoing crisis.
A small committee will introduce "institutional amendments" to the approved bill to reallocate funds to departments that ask for more funding, said Velasco.
He wants an increase in the budget of the Department of Health, particularly for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, which originally only had a P2.5-billion allocation. This would only be enough for some 3.9 million Filipinos, far from the 20 million Duterte wants to be inoculated for free, he said.
Addressing concerns from senators that pork funds may be inserted after the budget is passed on third reading and while it is being printed, Velasco said the small committee tasked to amend the approved bill will only realign appropriations to give way to departments that need more.
"Let me assure you that there is no pork in the budget and that the small committee would only do institutional amendments in the departments and agencies asking for more budgets. That is their job," he said.
Among provisions questioned earlier were the infrastructure allocations for Taguig and Camarines Sur, which are represented by former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte respectively. Asked if these would be reduced, Velasco said: "We will see."
"Right now we’re just doing a lot of institutional amendments. After that, the Senate will review it also, they will scrutinize it also. Then it comes to bicam. A lot can happen in the bicam and definitely we will push for fair and equitable distribution," he said.
But Velasco said "there weren't any promises made" on whether or not Taguig's budget would be touched.
Velasco came to power after 186 lawmakers voted to oust Cayetano from the speakership. The two were bound by a term-sharing deal brokered by Duterte at the start of the 18th Congress.