Senator Sonny Angara said Congress has enough time left in its legislative calendar to approve the bill extending the validity of certain items of the 2019 national budget.
Angara, the chairman of the Committee on Finance, said a hearing would no longer be necessary for Senate Bill 1153, which he filed last November 6, and that a committee report will just be presented in plenary for approval.
The Senate is currently in the thick of debates for the proposed P4.1 trillion national budget but for this particular measure, the veteran legislator said the Senate will be able to find a way to accommodate this because of its urgency and importance.
“There’s a lot of time. I don’t think there’s a reason to worry.”
“There’s a lot of time. I don’t think there’s a reason to worry because we have about seven to eight weeks before the end of the year. Maiapapsa natin yan whether it’s a bill or a resolution,” the seasoned lawmaker said.
But before the Senate can act on the measure, it will first have to wait for the House of Representatives to approve its own version of the bill.
The senator was supposed to sponsor Senate Joint Resolution No. 9 on the extension of the validity of the capital outlay (CO) and maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE) of the 2019 national budget, which he and Senator Imee Marcos filed jointly.
However, in light of a Supreme Court ruling on the case filed by the Ang Nars party list regarding the upward adjustment in the salary grade for entry level nurses, he explained that it was necessary to file a bill for the extension of the validity of the 2019 national budget in place of the resolution.
“The Supreme Court has a decision that a joint resolution cannot amend a law.”
“That’s because the Supreme Court has a decision, na hindi pa nilalabas yung text, na a joint resolution cannot amend a law. So medyo taliwas yun sa dating practice ng kongreso na basta yung joint resolution dumaan ng three readings, pwede niya amyendahan yung batas, it has the force of law,” Angara said.
“Nagulat kami dito kasi nagpasa na ang House ng resolution, and I was ready to sponsor the (Senate) resolution but hindi na naituloy because ayaw natin ma-technical tayo on the basis of that decision,” he added.
In highlighting the importance of the bill, Angara warned that “precious funds might be spent and our people will experience even more delays in the infrastructure projects and social services promised to them.”
As of September 30, a little over P261 billion of the national budget could lapse and revert to the National Treasury if these are not utilized by the end of the year.
The Department of Education, for instance, would lose up to P16 billion of its funds, as it will be forced to return this to the National Treasury under the cash budgeting system.
This will mean that up to 2,933 classrooms would not be repaired or rehabilitated as scheduled; 593 schools will remain without electricity; up to 1,836,793 students will not benefit from the milk feeding activity; and 2,485,388 students may not receive the vouchers they need for tuition under the Government Assistance and Subsidies program.
For the Department of Health, it will mean that almost all of the 3,491 projects under the Health Facilities Enhancement Program will be delayed further.
“If our measure is not approved, that means the DOH would have to wait for 2021 (at the earliest) before they can expect some movement on the same projects originally intended for 2019. For many sick Filipinos, that waiting time is much too long and could even prove to be fatal,” he concluded.