The 28th of October is the new target date in the calendar of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill en route to its enactment into a law before the turn of the year.
This is the date when the House leadership estimates the chamber can deliver the draft of its version of the appropriations measure to the Senate, the members of which indicated that a 5 November goal stated by former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will make the schedule too tight for the Senate to finish its task, and for a reconciled version to be ready for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature before the end of December.
The President and his Budget officials are known to meticulously go through items in the bill to veto what are obviously inserted pork fat.
Markers are now clear in the House of Representatives compared to the previous two years of the 18th Congress when the timetable is almost always thrown out the window as a result of wrangling over the distribution of pork barrel.
Passing the budget bill right on the dot was truly remarkable for Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, since it was achieved despite the intrigues that the discredited group of the former leadership continues to sow in the Chamber.
The latest potshot came from Congressman LRay Villafuerte who claimed that former Rep. Rolando Andaya is working behind the scene in providing the final touches to the House version of the budget.
Andaya was among the House members blamed for the delayed 2019 budget, which resulted to the stalling of the economy’s strong growth momentum.
“Honorable LRay, I can still understand why he doesn’t want to stop, ever since from the start he had been talkative, until now he has not stopped talking,” Velasco said in response.
The proposed 4.5 trillion national budget is crucial to address the coronavirus pandemic, and the recovery process that officials wanted to start as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the economic momentum.
The danger of a reenacted budget loomed prior to Velasco as the group of Cayetano tried to hostage the legislative process as leverage to force President Duterte to go along with junking the term-sharing deal.
The clique almost succeeded had it not been for the sense of fair play of the President and the people around him, the value they put on word of honor and their hatred for transactional politics.
Cayetano abruptly passed the spending bill on second reading, while terminating plenary debates and suspending session until 16 November, which, had it been followed, would have killed the chances of an early approval of the budget. The move was a ploy to prevent Velasco from taking the top post as provided in the 15-21 deal.
Subsequent events, guided by the President’s indication that he will not tolerate the House squabble derailing the budget, led to 186 lawmakers electing Velasco as Speaker, allowing him to preside as session resumed on Tuesday.
Velasco’s House then reversed Cayetano’s misdeals by conducting marathon hearings that lasted until past midnight.
Committee on Appropriations chair Eric Yap said a copy of the budget might even be submitted to the Senate earlier than scheduled or by 25 October, considering the 10 days of printing of the bill for distribution to senators.
What is being prevented is a reenacted budget, the danger of which Cayetano and his cohorts failed to appreciate.
A replay of the budget this year would have been disastrous since it did not provide for measures to battle the pandemic, which was in its early stages when the 2020 budget was being prepared.
While the priority before is political survival, the concern now is providing many Filipinos a fair chance to survive the blight through timely intervention that needed a ready budget at the start of a new year.
With divisiveness over, it is the Senate’s turn to complement the commitment shown by the new breed of House leaders and pass the budget less the grandstanding.