House ratifies P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget; bicam OKs several changes

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 09 2020 06:44 PM | Updated as of Dec 09 2020 10:11 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) — The House of Representatives on Wednesday night ratified the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, adopting the Bicameral Conference Committee Report on the General Appropriations Act. 

This will bring Congress one step closer to sending the bill to President Rodrigo Duterte for signature.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez moved for the ratification of the spending plan, while House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco presided over the vote that resulted in the approval of the bill. 

Once approved by both chambers, the approved version will be encoded for printing. House Appropriations Committee Chair Eric Go Yap previously said that printing usually takes as long as 10 days because of the volume of the document.

Yap said that once printed, the final copy would be signed by Speaker Velasco, Senate President Vicente Sotto and ultimately, by the President before the holidays.

Velasco, meanwhile, said the enrolled bill on the budget would be forwarded to Malacañang next week. 

The Department of Education (DepEd) gets the biggest chunk of the 2021 national budget with P708.18 billion, followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with P694.82 billion.

The Department of Health (DOH) - which is tasked to procure COVID-19 vaccines next year - will get the third largest share of the budget with P287.47 billion.

The other agencies that make up the top 10 recipients of public funds next year are as follows:

  •  Department of the Interior and Local Government - P247.50 billion
  •  Department of National Defense - P205.47 billion
  •  Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) - P176.65 billion
  •  Department of Transportation - P87.44 billion
  •  Department of Agriculture - P68.62 billion
  •  Judiciary - P44.10 billion
  •  Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) - P36.60 billion

The Senate has also ratified its version of the proposed 2021 budget.

 Bicam approves several changes 

In a statement released by Velasco’s office, the Speaker said the General Appropriations Bill includes a P70 billion allocation for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, its storage, transportation and distribution.

Yap said in the same statement that the bicameral conference committee approved several changes introduced by the House which includes:

  •  additional funding of P44.8 billion for the “Build, Build, Build” program under the DPWH
  •  additional P2 billion for the procurement of personal protective equipment
  •  additional P434.4 million for the health department's Health Facilities Enhancement Program
  •  additional P462 million for the DOH’s Medical Health Assistance Program
  •  additional P100 million for the DOH's mental health program
  •  additional P3.177 billion for DOLE, majority of which is for the Office of the Secretary’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged or Displaced Workers Program or TUPAD

The lawmaker said that the bicam also increased the budget for Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program and the Government Internship Program (GIP) by P5.09 billion, bringing its total to P19 billion. 

According to the statement, the bicam also allotted P1.6 billion to DSWD for its alternative family care program, which is designed to provide protective services for individuals, families and communities in difficult circumstances.

“This budget reflects the serious commitment of the Duterte government to defeat COVID-19 and bring the economy back on track,” Velasco said.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved on 2nd reading a bill extending the validity of the 2020 National Budget to December 31, 2021.

The House began plenary deliberations on House Bill 6656 as submitted by the Committee on Appropriations. It was then amended by substitution by the plenary with an unnumbered substitute bill.

Earlier in the day, Yap and Senate Finance Committee Chair Sonny Angara bared plans to extend the validity of this year's budget until next year to allow the completion of projects derailed by the pandemic, as well as of the Bayanihan 2. 

Without the extension, the unused funds allocated under Bayanihan 2 will revert to the National Treasury once Congress adjourns session for the Yuletide holidays.

The same thing will happen to the unused funds under the 2020 budget, after December 31, 2020.

Earlier in the plenary session, the House also approved on 2nd reading House Bill 8056 imposing taxes on offsite betting activities on locally licensed cockfights and derbies. 

“The bill taxes an existing industry that is not yet being taxed, without causing any economic harm, as wagering is a demand inelastic non-essential,” said Ways and Means Chair Joey Salceda, one of the bill's sponsors.

“The operations of online betting on sabong are authorized by local ordinances. Because of the digital shift, there are now electronic betting operations on such games. But the electronic aspect of it is a gray area, even though the airwaves is national property. Because of this ambiguity, we are unable to levy national taxes on these activities. By clarifying this gray area in my proposal, we hope to raise multiples more in revenues than the BIR collection from cockpits of P13.7M in 2019,” he said.

Under Salceda’s proposal, the tax shall be 5% of gross revenues derived from Offsite Betting Activities on Locally Licensed Games, and shall not be in lieu of taxes required by the LGUs and regulatory fees and charges imposed by government agencies. 

LGUs will still have full regulatory and revenue collecting powers over in-premise games and betting, according to the proposal.

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- with reports from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News