The bicameral conference committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives approved yesterday the P1.415-trillion national budget for this year, including P50 billion for the “economic stimulus package.”
Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the stimulus package was comprised of P30 billion from the fund for debt service and P20 billion from the realignment of money from other departments.
Angara said the P50 billion would be allotted for additional projects for infrastructure, education, environment, health and others.
The P50-billion stimulus fund is intended to address the global economic crisis by providing jobs, livelihood and other assistance to the poor.
Angara expected the Senate ratification of the budget yesterday but Senators Manuel Roxas II and Panfilo Lacson disclosed they were not aware of the details yet and would not sign the bicameral report without clarifying the amendments made.
Only Angara and Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, chairman of the House appropriations committee, met to harmonize the Senate and the House versions of the budget.
Lacson said they would not allow the ratification of the budget without knowing the changes made by Angara and Cua.
Lacson said he dissented because his proposal to have public and transparent meetings of the bicameral conference committee was not followed.
The Senate suspended session until 10 a.m. today without ratifying the budget.
The House approved last night the national budget, just hours after the bicameral conference committee reconciled the conflicting versions of the House and Senate.
Shortly before the House voted to ratify the conference report, speaker Prospero Nograles said the panel came up with the final version after weeks of marathon deliberations.
Deputy Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, a member of the House contingent to the bicameral panel, criticized the delay in the passage of the final version of the budget measure.
He said the committee’s co-chairmen Cua and Angara failed to make a report on the budget measure after the holidays, but they were surprised when members of the committee were called yesterday to sign the committee report.
Zamora said he and the other members of the committee from the opposition would not sign the report since they were kept in the dark about the agreements between Cua and Angara.
Zamora questioned the P30-billion cut made on the debt service allocation.
Angara said he did not make unnecessary insertions in the budget but only amendments. “That can be done,” he added.
“The two chairs were granted authority by members of the bicameral (conference committee) to discuss provisions but have to present to the (members) what they discussed. If this is the case we will not ratify. We will not even sign the bicameral report,” Angara said.
Reports said the minority in the House also refused to sign the bicameral conference committee report to protest the lack of transparency in the crafting of the final version of the proposed budget.
Some opposition congressmen also said the cuts must be explained by the two chairmen who drafted the appropriations measure.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said budget spending must be monitored because of the stimulus fund.
She said the money must be spent on agricultural productivity, namely on infrastructure projects such as the building of small-scale irrigation systems or of farm-to-market roads – more or less permanent improvements that could be availed of by the people. –- Aurea Calica with Jess Diaz, Philippine Star