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Finally, the Senate passed the Malacañang proposed 2019 national budget of P3.757-trillion voting 14-0.
This would be the start of bicameral talks with the House of Representative which Senator Panfilo Lacson dubbed as “bloody and sweaty” as other Senators are aware of the big discrepancies between the Senate and the House of Representative versions.
There were amendments that were done in the proposed budget, according to Finance Committee Chairperson Senator Loren Legarda. This includes restoration of P16.796 billion in the Department of Health budget for the its health facilities and P4.797 billion for “human resource for health development.”Also, the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways was reduced by the Senate due to the road right-of-way issues and various projects which were not part of the agency’s original submission to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
The Senate also saw some funds that were not included in the program for the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, the P10-billion coconut farmer and industry development fund, P18 billion for implementation of the universal healthcare program, and P40 billion for the envisioned Bangsamoro autonomous region which was approved by the Congress under House Bill No. 8169, or the “General Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2019,” on third and final reading on Nov. 20.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the bicameral conference committee on the proposed 2019 budget will start on Tuesday, Jan. 22 and hopefully next week, the Senate can ratify it and it will be ready for the signature of the President Duterte.
Sotto is confident that the bicameral panel can opt to fast-track the process. “Hopefully, we can ratify the budget bill soon and it will be ready for the signature of the President, except that it will take some time to be ready for signing because it takes a lot of time and documents to be finalized. It’s long, printing because voluminous document takes time.”
It is interesting to note that the Congress has failed to ratify the proposed 2019 national budget before 2018 ended, leading to automatic reenactment of last year’s spending plan. While this ensures funding for projects already under way, a re-enacted budget does not provide money for new projects that had been lined up under the new spending plan. —
See related story: Senator Lacson seeks real transparency on budget bicam