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Budget battle waged at Bicam

It is hard to question what Congress did but it can be questioned before the court if they believe that what happened was not a regular process.

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The actual battle over the P4.1 trillion 2020 budget will happen not during the plenary sessions of the Senate, but at the Bicameral Conference Committee (Bicam) that will seek to reconcile the versions of General Appropriations Bill (GAB) among representatives of the two chambers of Congress.

The House of Representatives had passed its version of the budget last 20 September and this will be transmitted today to the Senate.

Another delay in the passage of the national budget is what both chambers wanted to avoid, according to Finance Committee chairman Sonny Angara.

If lawmakers believe there are irregularities in the budget process, it could also be questioned in court aside from challenging these in the chamber’s floors, but the Senate will forego it to speed up the process.

“It is hard to question what Congress did, but it can be questioned before the court if they believe that what happened was not a regular process,” Angara said.

“But if we would do that, we cannot pass the budget on time. So, the larger interest prevails. In the reenacted budget this 2019, we saw that economic growth suffered. Our development was limited,” he explained.

Angara reiterated his assurance that the government will pass the 2020 national budget by the end of December.

On the other hand, the House of Representatives has fired shots against Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, tagging them as “obstructionist” who intend to “derail” President Rodrigo Duterte’s program.

Another friction is brewing in both chambers as Deputy Speaker Henry Oaminal said the senators had questioned the GAB passed by the House even before they have yet to see the actual document.

“Hence, they should refrain from making premature statements that tend to put us in a bad light. How can they conclude that the budget bill contains questionable provisions when they haven’t even seen a copy of the document?” Oaminal said.

Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia defended the creation of the small committees in the House explaining that it was an old practice since the 8th Congress.

Have courtesy

Garcia said Albay Rep. Joey Salceda “had explained that the small committee was a decision reached during the plenary and was done for practical purposes since not all 299 members of the House can sit down and finalize the amendments”

“We call on our fellow lawmakers to observe interparliamentary courtesy and refrain from coming out with premature, baseless allegations. We appeal to them to wait for us to do our jobs first,” Garcia said.

Another deputy speaker, Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano, hit Drilon for his crusade against the pork barrel, recalling the senator’s “benefit” from the Priority Development Assistance Fund in the previous administration.

He said that Drilon faced a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center, which was “partly funded by the senator’s P200 million PDAF or pork barrel in 2013.”

Savellano also lambasted Lacson for seeking “pogi points” by hitting the House of Representatives and using “baseless allegations ‘in aid of his election.’”

“It would be better for the good senator to find a valid issue or concern that is backed by solid evidence. Don’t use the House to carry out your personal agenda. Let’s just work together so that Congress can be an effective partner of the President in implementing his reform initiatives,” Savellano said.

Correct process

“As a general rule, there is a process that we should follow… The contingents of the House and the Senate should talk because, usually, they have different amendments. In the issue of pork, it should be compliant with the Constitution and generally, lawmakers do not approve large lump sums and post-enactment,” Angara explained.

The senator indicated the Senate has yet to scrutinize and look into the House version of the GAB. Recently, the House fast-tracked the passage of the expenditure plan by skipping the tedious period of amendments where congressmen would be able to insert or object to budget realignments.

Instead, the House created a small committee, which includes majority and minority members, to consider all the amendments sought by other members of the chamber.

Angara stressed that a battle over the budget is inevitable as a result of a Supreme Court ruling on what constituted pork barrel that it outlawed in a 2013 decision.

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