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Lagman defends ‘Small committee’

Edcel Lagman
Rep. Edcel Lagman

INDEPENDENT Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Thursday reminded senators that the long tradition and accepted practice of a “small committee” with the presumption of regularity in effecting corrections of style and errata after the approval of the national budget on second reading can be traced back as far as 8th Congress.

“This tradition on the work of the small committee dates back to the 8th Congress, and the composition and task of the small committee to effect amendments were authorized and ratified by the plenary on 16 October 2020,” Lagman stressed, referring to the small committee led by House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.

“This more than three-decade old tradition is well known to the senators who have accepted it for a long period of time,” Lagman explained in defending the action of the small committee, which formalized the P20 billion institutional amendments under the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 as bared by Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda.

“The House approved on second reading the GAB subject to the amendments to be approved by the small committee, which colatilla necessarily applied to the approval on third reading,” Lagman pointed out.

Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson questioned the move of the House of Representatives allowing the Executive branch to insert “errata” into the national budget

Lacson explained that changes are not allowed to the national budget after the House of Representatives approved the national budget on third and final reading.

Lagman said “what was approved on third reading is the second reading copy of the GAB (General Appropriations Bill) subject to the amendments to be approved by the small committee.”

“Consequently, the amendments to be approved by the small committee are pursuant to the conditional approval of the GAB on second and third readings pending the incorporation of the amendments to be effected by the small committee,” said Lagman.

He pointed out that the House of Representatives has very limited time to finish committee and individual amendments, adding that the Senate has been insisting to transmit the national budget immediately.

“Due to time constraints, the limited timetable set in the President’s call for a short four-day special session for the House to consider and approve the General Appropriations Bill without further delay, and the insistence of some Senators for the House to submit soonest to the Senate the copy of the GAB,” said Lagman.

In the authorization stage of the annual budget process, Lagman said both the House of Representatives and the Senate conduct hearings/meetings where the departments and agencies justify their budget proposals and may request for institutional amendments.

“The House and the Senate do not perform their respective roles during the authorization stage in a vacuum,” Lagman said.

On Wednesday, senior Deputy Speaker and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon, a member of the small committee, insisted that the P20 billion institutional amendments were mere “corrections of style and errata” and not actual or “literal” changes after the proposed national budget was approved on third and final reading last Friday.

Leachon explained that the small committee did not introduced amendments to the national budget following its approval.

“They are more in the way corrections of style and of errata, and they do not add to the total amounts which are already fixed as deliberated upon at the plenary, but rather corrections of style and errata. Needless to state, all past budget processes have accepted them with a presumption of regularity,” Leachon said.

“Due to lack of material time and the interest of expediency, particularly so that we’re limited in a period stated in Proclamation 1027, Congress normally and traditionally does allow amendments after the third reading as these amendments are not literally so in that technical concept as to violate constitutional provisions,” Leachon explained to belittle Lacson’s argument that the small committee’s act of introducing “institutional amendments” into the 2021 national budget was unconstitutional.

“We perfectly agree with Senator Lacson on this issue. We all want to have the next annual national budget that is free from constitutional attack. Apart from the objective as enunciated by Speaker [Lord Allan] Velasco, that is- Ito ang budget para sa bayan.!” Leachon stressed.

Salceda, a member of the small committee, said the small group had the consensus to consider only institutional amendments and departmental errata and accommodate individual amendments during the bicameral conference committee.

The soft copy of the third reading version of the 2021 national budget containing the P20 billion institutional amendments made by the small committee as disclosed by Salceda will be transmitted to the Senate on October 28.

Other members of the small committee under Romualdez are Leachon, Salceda, House appropriations chairman and ACT-CIS party-list Eric Yap, Rizal Rep. Jack Duavit, Bataan Rep. Jose Enrique Garcia, Batangas Rep. Eileen Ermita-Buhain, House Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon (BH) party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera, AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, House Deputy Majority Leader and Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma, Samar Rep. Edgar Marie Sarmiento, Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

The small committee, according to Salceda, also agreed to provide the following institutional amendments: Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), P400 million; Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), P100 million; DoH, P10.5 that will be allocated to Health Facility Enhancement Program with P2 billion, P300 million to Mental Health and P5.5 billion to COVID-19 vaccine; Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) Tupad, P4 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Assistance to Families Affected by the Pandemic, P2 billion; Department of Education’s (DepEd) Support to Teachers on Connectivity, P1.7 billion; Department of Interior and Local Government-Philippine National Police’s (DILG-PNP) Mobile Vehicle for Quick Response, P2 billion; and Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Procurement of Aircraft (C-130), P2 billion.