By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan
THE SENATE is targeting to approve the 2022 General Appropriations Bill on third and final reading early next week after delays caused by a coronavirus scare.
Debates were expected to end on Tuesday night, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters in a Viber message group on Tuesday.
“We hope to finish the period of interpellations today since there are a handful of agencies left,” he said. “Many senators have already submitted amendments, and we hope to incorporate them by early next week before the second and third reading of the General Appropriations Bill.”
Congress is under pressure to pass the budget bill by yearend to avoid a reenacted budget, which could delay government projects and expansion plans for some key services and programs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Debates could extend until Thursday because of the budgets of major agencies.
The budgets of the Social Welfare, Public Works, and Trade departments, as well as those of the Climate Change Commission, Commission on Higher Education, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) will be up for debates.
“We suggested to submit amendments to Senator Angara, and he can just read them so that it will be faster,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told Radyo 5 in mixed English and Filipino. Other senators will then have to vote on the revisions.
He said that the initial target to halt deliberations was Thursday last week, but work was halted after chamber visitor Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — which turned out to be a false positive.
The budget of the PCOO which was scheduled for debate on Monday was deferred after the general manager of the Asian Productivity Organization Production Unit, a government-owned and -controlled corporation attached to the PCOO, drank alcohol during the session. Senators, angered by the “total disrespect,” pushed its budget to last.
“May I remind the PCOO team to conduct proper virtual etiquette because we can see Mr. Dominic Tajon moving around, and we saw some inappropriate pictures of individuals not clothed properly,” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said during the plenary session.
“Unbelievable,” said Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri in a Viber message late Monday. “No one attended here in the session hall that are heads of their agencies when all other departments came here in the Senate and waited the whole day to pass their budget.”
Meanwhile, Senator Pilar Juliana S. Cayetano on Monday evening recalled the budget of the PSC which had earlier been submitted. This was due to its “hands-off approach” to the issue regarding pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, who was accused by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) of failing to pay his coach.
“They said: ‘Work it out.’ How can you do that to your national athlete?” she questioned. “Give importance to our national athlete who was accused just like that, and it was without basis because no less than the coach said that he has been paid.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Sotto said that a provision will be made in the GAB to ensure that the parking of funds under the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) and the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) will no longer continue.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto earlier said that at least P63.1 billion have been dumped into these two agencies, with PITC, an attached agency of the Trade department, accounting for P31.54 billion and the PS-DBM for P31.56 billion.
He added that in 2020, PITC booked an income of P199.8 million, of which P137 million came from outsourced procurement, while PS-DBM’s revenue reached P1.02 billion, with sales accounting for P877 million and service fees as procuring agent contributing P21.6 million.
However, the Senate Chief pointed out that the remaining departments and agencies were “heavy,” so it might be that debates will extend until Thursday, hopefully not Friday.