Bicameral meeting for proposed P5.024-T 2022 national budget begins

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 06 2021 07:57 PM

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MANILA — Thirteen senators and 20 members of the House of Representatives on Monday formally began the bicameral conference committee meeting for the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022, as lawmakers promised to address the country’s COVID-19 pandemic-related concerns.

Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said members of the Senate contingent have agreed not to compromise budget entries designed to address the government’s pandemic-related projects and those that will extend assistance to sectors in need.

“'Yung mga tulong sa pandemya, sa mga nawalan ng trabaho, sa mga kailangan na i-repatriate na OFWs, 'yung mga tulong sa mga sektor na apektado, 'yung 4Ps na in-expand nila, naka-imbed na 'yun sa budget. Yung medical assistance sa indigent, yung mga pondo na 'yun, hindi talaga puwedeng (galawin),” Angara told reporters.

(The aid for pandemic concerns, the unemployed, repatriation of OFWs, affected sectors and 4Ps members are already embedded in the budget. The medical assistance for the indigent, those funds cannot be touched.)

Sen. Imee Marcos also said these are the untouchable provisions in next year’s proposed budget.

NTF-ELCAC 

Meanwhile, the proposed budget for the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict still needs to be resolved, given the persistence of Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa to increase its proposed P10 billion spending plan for 2022.

NTF-ELCAC's budget was slashed and some of it was realigned to COVID-19 pandemic response.

Dela Rosa, a staunch proponent of NTF-ELCAC’s budget increase, remains hopeful that the agency’s 2022 budget for its Barangay Development Fund (BDF) could still get a raise.

He said he is hopeful the agency will have a P15-16 billion budget for next year, as “assured” by Angara. But the latter, while confirming his support for dela Rosa’s appeal, however, has admitted his dilemma on where to get the additional budget.

The BDF’s budget was initially reduced to P4 billion by the senators due to the NTF-ELCAC’s failure to submit a detailed report on their budget proceeds, but was later increased to P10 billion.
 
The additional funds were sourced from the Department of Transportation, Department of Public Works and Highways, and other agencies with big ticket projects.

"Ilagay natin sa infrastructure, sa mga very visible na makikita ng ating mga kababayan sa kanayunan, kasi yun naman ang point nung programa,” Angara said.

(Let us allot more funds on infrastructure, on very visible projects in the countryside because that is the point of this development program.)

Sen. Joel Villanueva said he is in favor of increasing the NTF-ELCAC’s barangay budget, provided that projects can really be used or seen by the people.

“That was my position, basta infra... We’ll make sure that this will not go to waste,” Villanueva said. 

FOR LATER RELEASE PROJECTS
 
Both congressional panels meanwhile agreed with Marcos’ proposal to remove the "for later release" or FLR provisions in the 2022 budget to prevent repetition of previous experiences where release of funds allotted for certain projects are suspended along the way.

“Ang problema kasi dun, unang-una, sa palagay ko, me cash naman. Kasi marami naman tayong inutang. May trillion-trillion pang naiiwan sa Treasury, pagbigyan na natin 'yang natitirang project na 'yan,” she said.

The Duterte administration’s FLR projects for 2021 have a total worth of P787.5 billion. 

As of November 2021, however, there is still a balance of P172.5 billion in FLR projects, according to the Department of Budget and Management’s released data.
 
Senators agreed that the FLR provision greatly affects the government’s overall performance in terms of projects delivery.

ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, said the bicameral panel will discuss the budget in small groups for speedy action.

Next year’s budget, he said, will give more priority to the health care workers Special Risk Allowance (SRA) which should reach at least P90 billion.

“Yung (Department of Health), parang hindi sila naglagay ng (Special Risk Allowance) dun sa NEP (National Expenditure Program). So kailangan naming lagyan ng SRA,” Yap said.

Both Houses of Congress aim to ratify the proposed budget next week, Angara said. 

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