MEMBERS of the bicameral conference committee on the proposed P4.6 trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) on Tuesday authorized House committee on appropriations chairman Eric Yap and Senate committee on finance chairman Sonny Angara to discuss amendments and reconcile the conflicting provisions of next year’s national budget this week.
During the “hybrid” bicameral meeting at Makati Shangri-La Hotel that lasted 20 minutes, House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez moved to designate Yap as the representative of the House of Representatives to thresh out the two budget versions.
“Mr. chairman, on the part of the House delegation, we delegate the authority to our chairman, Congressman Yap to discuss the amendments of legislators with the senators and thresh out the conflicting provisions [of next year’s national budget],” said Romualdez on his motion duly seconded by Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero.
After Romualdez’s motion, Sen. Joel Villanueva made a similar request authorizing Angara to discuss the Senate version with Yap. His motion was seconded by Sen. Win Gatchalian.
At least five senators and ten congressmen physically participated during the bicameral meeting while the rest of bicam members joined via Zoom.
The senators who physically attended the meeting included Angara, Villanueva, Gatchalian, Pia Cayetano and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. “Maigsi lang karaniwan ang formal bicam,” Angara said. “We needed one week last year to address the conflicting provisions of this year’s national budget.”
The House members who attended physically were Yap, Romualdez, Romero, Abra Rep. Joseph Bernos, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Deputy Speaker and Antipolo City Rep. Robbie Puno, House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen, senior Deputy Speaker and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon and Deputy Speaker and Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) party-list Rep. Lito Atienza.
Yap said both the House and Senate contingents agreed on the need to conclude the bicam deliberations this week to prevent the government operate under a reenacted budget by January.
“Our goal is to finish the budget this week, by Friday,” Yap said.
“Our goal is ultimately the same: to have appropriate funding for COVID-19 vaccines and to allocate budget for regions severely affected by calamities.”
Yap also insisted there were no irregularities in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill, particularly on the infrastructure project allocations for legislative districts nationwide.
“All I see are Multi-Purpose Buildings that can be converted into quarantine facilities. I see budget for building necessary infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. The rest are road networks, valid projects under President Rodrigo Duterte’s Build Build Build program,” Yap pointed out.
He was also hopeful that the Senate could accommodate Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s request for a P5-billion increase in calamity fund for the reconstruction of areas devastated by recent typhoons, as well as additional funding for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
Barring any hiccup, Yap said the GAB should reach the President’s desk within three weeks after the bicam deliberation is completed this week.
“We will need three to five days to encode any amendments, then another week to print the budget,” Yap said.
“We are hoping for this to be a Christmas present to the President and ultimately, the Filipino people,” he added.