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Pork-free national budget assured

Hananeel Bordey

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House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Monday assured the earlier submission to the Senate of the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 which he described as “pork barrel-free.”

Velasco’s statement came after a week of rushed deliberations to be able to meet last Friday’s deadline for the third and final reading of the budget by the House. Velasco was installed as Speaker only on Monday after a long, rough battle with ousted Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

Cayetano had tried to stall the budget deliberations when he declared a break in the House sessions after his approval of the budget’s second reading on 6 October. He had wanted the sessions to resume the sessions on 16 November.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, warned that the House suspension of the sessions would result in the delayed approval of the national budget.

The Senate also said the country could not afford to work under a reenacted budget due to Cayetano’s decision.

The President then ordered the House to resume its sessions on 13 October to discuss the national budget.

Velasco and 186 of his allies — a majority — convened a day earlier than the President’s call. They were barred by Cayetano from using the Batasang Pambansa and were forced to conduct a session at the Celebrity Sports Plaza, also in Quezon City.

There they declared the Speaker’s seat vacant and installed Velasco in the post.

Velasco was supposed to take over as House Speaker on 14 October had Cayetano honored the 15-21 term-sharing agreement forged between them by President Duterte.

That left Velasco with just four days to complete and approve the third and final reading of the budget.

The new House leader reiterated that the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) will be officially transmitted to the Senate on 28 October.

“Originally the transmission of the budget to the Senate was on 5 November. But I have talked with Senate President Sotto and he said that 5 November would give them a hard time to pass the budget on time,” Velasco shared.

“So, we agreed to transmit by 28 October, best efforts of the House. But that can actually still be until 30 October,” he added.

He also assured that “there’s no pork in the budget.”

“Budget won’t be equal but equitable depending on the needs of the districts,” he explained.

A small committee has been created to consolidate all the proposed amendments for the measure.

“The small committee would only do institutional amendments, mainly for agencies and departments asking for more budget,” Velasco said.

The amendments will not come from the congressmen themselves, he stressed.

The small committee is composed of Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Senior Deputy Speaker Doy Leachon and House committee on appropriations chair Eric Yap.

To represent the majority in the body are Rizal Rep. Michael John Duavit, Bataan Rep. Jose Enrique “Joet” Garcia, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, Batangas Rep. Eileen Ermita-Buhain, Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo, Samar Rep. Edgar Sarmiento and Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Luisa Cuaresma.

Two partylist representatives, Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy and AAMBIS-OWA Partylist Rep. Sharon Garin, are also included.

House Assistant Minority Leader Stella Quimbo and Rep. Edcel Lagman fill in for the Independent opposition.

They are also in-charge of sourcing out funds to amend projects needing more budget allocations.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, maintained that amendments after the third reading approval of the GAB in the House of Representatives are unconstitutional.

He explained that the amendments being tackled in the “small group committee” are not consistent with the legislative process according to the 1987 Constitution.

“The claim of the House Appropriations Committee chair that the “errata” a.k.a. amendments will come from the implementing agencies and not from the individual House members will further muddle an already constitutionally infirm and error-filled budget measure,” he said.

“Why? The authorization part of the four-phase budget process is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress, and the executive should deal only with budget preparation and execution,” he said.

Meanwhile, Velasco said he supports the appeal of lawmakers to increase the budget allocations for the purchase of vaccines against the coronavirus disease.

He said the President wanted about 20 million Filipinos vaccinated but the P2.5-billion funds allocated for this at present would only cover around three percent of the population.

“Definitely the small committee should add more on that,” Velasco averred.

with MICHELLE R. GUILLANG

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