MANILA - The budget heads of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Wednesday confirmed that Congress is planning to extend the validity of 2 spending bills to ensure that delayed COVID-19 response projects would still be rolled out.
Congress is planning to extend the 2020 budget until June or December 2021, and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) until March or mid-2021, Senate Committee on Finance chair Sen. Sonny Angara said in a press conference.
This, while passage of the 2021 national budget is on track. Congress had extended the validity of the spending plans in 2018 and 2019 as the passage of the spending measures for the succeeding years was delayed after House lawmakers bickered over how much their respective districts could get from state coffers.
"The 2020 GAA (General Appropriations Act) has a lot of projects that were delayed because of the lockdown, of quarantine so additional time is needed," he said.
"Regarding the [COVID-19] vaccine, 'yung P8 billion [fund] nasa Bayanihan 2 so that expires on December 19. Kapag hindi natin in-extend 'yung Bayanihan 2, magre-revert din 'yung pera [back to the National Treasury]," he said.
(Regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, the P8 billion is lodged in the Bayanihan 2 so that expires on December 19. If we will not extend the Bayanihan 2, the fund will be reverted to the National Treasury.)
Under the law, annual national budgets would expire at the end of every year, while emergency measures - like the Bayanihan 2 - would lose its validity once Congress adjourns session.
Once these spending laws expire, funds that were unspent have to be reverted to the National Treasury, and Congress would have to craft another law to authorize the executive branch to tap these funds for specific projects.
"Iniisip namin until March [i-extend] pero siyempre depende pa 'yan eh, depende sa needs," said House Appropriations Committee chair ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Yap.
(We were thinking of extending it until March, but that would depend on the needs.)
"Kung sa tingin natin ay hindi pa nayu-utilize lahat [by then], puwede pa namin i-extend 'yun," he said.
(If we think that not everything has been utilized by then, we can extend it again.)
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto filed Senate Bill No. 1909 to extend the deadlines of COVID-19 spending until March 27, 2021.
But opposition Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan earlier warned against the practice of extending the budget's validity, saying it could prompt executive agencies to be complacent in rolling out projects.
"Are we condoning delays? Kasi ie-extend naman [ng Congress], so pabayaan na lang [na delayed ang release ng funds]?" he said at the Senate plenary last month.
(Are we condoning delays? If Congress will extend it, should we just let them delay the release of funds?)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, downplayed the need for a third Bayanihan law, saying additional funding for typhoon victims and COVID-19 programs may just be included in the 2021 budget.
"The executive should be able to cooperate by releasing funds under Bayanihan 2," he said.
"Why do we have to crack our head on this issue when in fact the solution is... by having these money released," he added.
As of October 29, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released P78 billion, about half of the P165-billion funding the government is authorized to spend under the Bayanihan 2.