AFTER Friday night’s passage of the 2021 national budget on third and final reading, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco immediately thanked House leaders led by Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez for ensuring a functioning House of Representatives despite the divisive leadership change last Tuesday.
“Our deputies and leaders in the Majority and the Minority who have steered the Committee on Rules and the proceedings here in plenary, headed by our Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Minority Leader Benny Abante, and the captain of the night shift, Rimpy “Puyat” Bondoc na totoo namang puyat na puyat. And of course, our Deputy Speakers for presiding over four historical days and nights of this special session. Thank you to all of you,” said Velasco in his closing remarks before he and Romualdez ended the special session called by President Rodrigo Duterte to pass the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 on third and final reading.
Capping four days of marathon deliberations, a total of 267 legislators voted in favor of House Bill (HB) 7727 or the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB). Only six voted against the measure and no one abstained.
“At this juncture let me thank each and every one of you who has toiled long and hard for the successful passage of our budget – all the hardworking members of our very able Secretariat who ensured that Congress continued to function seamlessly despite the challenges that we successfully hurdled this week; our congressional staff who are behind us 24/7; the Members and staff of the Committee on Appropriations who know all the intricacies of every budget that this House has passed, and their Chair Eric Yap and all our Vice Chairs,” Velasco said.
“I am proud and humbled by what I have experienced and witnessed this very eventful week. I may not be an extraordinary congressman, but I am a humble recipient of your overwhelming mandate and support,” he said.
HOUSE PREPARED TO WORK WITH SENATE
Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero cited the importance of avoiding a re-enacted budget for next year as the country would need an effective stimulus program to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
“As President Duterte and Speaker Velasco rightfully said, the 2021 budget must be passed on time because it will serve as the biggest economic stimulus fund that our nation needs to quickly recover from COVID-19,” Romero, president of the 54-strong Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI), stressed.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said the House of Representatives is now prepared to work with the Senate and the President’s Cabinet to ratify the budget on time and prevent the need for a reenacted budget.
“The House under Speaker Velasco is prepared to do whatever it takes. The 2021 budget is the most important stimulus measure for our economic recovery. We have sustained our investments in health, education, infrastructure, and economic development in this budget. We expect these investments to help propel the country towards recovery, and help us regain our competitive edge in the global economy,” said Salceda.
“Speaker Velasco has passed his first test of leadership well and easy. He has demonstrated to all of us that his demeanor of calm but engaged dedication to work is what gets the job done. With the budget deliberations out of the way, the House under Speaker Velasco can begin its work of being a modernizing force in the Duterte government. In the House, I have been entrusted to lead the modernization of our economic and fiscal policy, by the House leadership and by the President. So, approving the budget will allow me to get back to work on this effort. We are pushing for a New Deal for the New Economy. I hope to continue engaging the media and the public on this in the days to come,” Salceda stressed.
AFFIRMATION OF COMMITMENT TO PASS NAT’L BUDGET
The House of Representatives reaffirmed its commitment to pass the highest quality budget that would help Filipinos and the economy rebound, reset and recover from the adverse impact of COVID-19.
In his closing remarks, Velasco thanked House members for responding to the call of Duterte to hold a special session to ensure the timely passage of the government’s spending plan for next year.
The Speaker also congratulated his colleagues for their active involvement on the approval of the 2021 appropriations bill, which he described as a “no ordinary” budget.
“It is an extraordinary budget for extraordinary times. There is so much at stake here: our health, the economy, jobs and livelihood, food security, the education of our children, and much more,” he said.
Velasco likewise expressed his gratitude to the President for “taking a principled, decisive leadership” in calling for the special session, which allowed House members to further scrutinize the agency budgets and to thresh out issues relevant to each department and concerned sector.
“We have provided every representative the opportunity to raise issues, clarify any misconceptions, and recommend how we can make the budget truly responsive to our current and pressing needs and conditions,” he said.
The Speaker said he was “humbled and heartened by the realization that no one or any group has the monopoly of knowledge and competence.”
“Every member of this institution has something to contribute and deserves to be heard. That we can do better by listening to one another and working together, for our people deserve nothing less,” said Velasco.
At the same time, Velasco said he was proud of the 2021 GAB for being “truly reflective and responsive to the needs of our people.”
“We have proven that playing by the rules, without resorting to shortcuts, and keeping our time-honored traditions and values, we can produce better and superior outputs,” he said.
The third reading approval came minutes after the House passed the GAB on second reading, marking the second consecutive year that the budget bill breezed through its second and third readings on the same day.
The agencies which received the biggest allocations were: Department of Education, P754.4 billion; Department of Public Works and Highways, P667.3 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government, P246.1 billion; Department of National Defense, P209.1 billion; Department of Health (DoH), P203.1 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development, P171.2 billion; Department of Transportation, P143.6 billion; Department of Agriculture, P66.4 billion; the Judiciary, P43.5 billion; and Department of Labor and Employment, P27.5 billion.
The DoH budget includes an initial P2.5 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines next year.
Meanwhile, Velasco assured his fellow lawmakers and the President that “we will not have a reenacted budget by January of next year.”
“We will transmit without delay the approved bill to the Senate and give our counterparts sufficient time to likewise examine the national budget,” Velasco said.
The House leader also reminded his colleagues that the task over the budget does not end with its passage. “We will have to make sure that the programs are properly implemented, that public funds as appropriated do not go to waste.”