MANILA – Introducing amendments to the approved version of the 2021 general appropriations bill (GAB) is not allowed, Malacañang said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque shared the view of some senators that it is unconstitutional to amend the spending measure after it was approved on the third and final reading.
Roque, a former lawmaker, noted that changes should be limited to typographical errors and not additional items.
"Well, as a finding of fact, kinakailangan ma-establish na iyong errata really refers to a typographical error ‘no. Pero kung ito po ay additional items, then I would share the view of the senators, kasi kapag third and final reading eh wala na po dapat pagbabago iyan (Well, as a finding of fact, it should be established that the errata really refers to a typographical error. But if these are additional items, then I would share the view of the senators because no changes should be made after third and final reading)," Roque said in a press briefing.
Roque recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed items of appropriation in the 2019 national budget that were introduced as post-ratification realignments.
“But then another issue of fact is, ano ba talaga inaprubahan noong third and final reading? Kasi unless mailabas kung ano iyon, hindi natin malalaman kung mayroon talagang bagong mga dinagdag (What was really approved on third and final reading? Unless that is released, then we wouldn't know what changes were made)," Roque said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Constitution has clear provisions on until when Congress may introduce amendments to the budget bill.
"Article VI, Section 26, Paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution is unequivocally clear, regardless of where the amendments will come from. Wala namang sinasabi ang Constitution na pag naghahabol ng "errata," hindi ito applicable (The Constitution does not say this is not applicable when applying an errata): 'Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal'," Lacson said.
Lacson said the claim of the House Appropriations Committee that the “errata” or amendments will come from the implementing agencies and not from the individual House members "will further muddle an already constitutionally infirm and error-filled budget measure".
"Why? The authorization part of the four-phase budget process is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress, and the executive should deal only with budget preparation and execution. No amount of technicalities and sweet-talk maneuvers can correct a flawed budget that is supposed to address the problems and concerns of more than 100 million Filipinos. It is time that we correct the mindset of the so-called representatives of the people in this regard," Lacson said.
On Friday, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill 7727 or the 2021 General Appropriations Bill with 267 affirmative votes, six negative votes, and no abstention.
The House gave its green light to the 2021 GAB after holding a special session from Oct. 13 to 16, as called upon by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The House of Representatives has introduced institutional amendments to next year’s spending bill amounting to PHP20 billion divided among departments and agencies that need more funding.
House committee on appropriations vice chair Joey Salceda said the small committee, tasked to receive and resolve amendments to the proposed PHP4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, has reached a consensus to only include institutional amendments and consider all individual amendments during the bicameral conference committee meeting with the Senate.
"The House version of the 2021 budget is now ready for submission to the Senate as the small group had the consensus to consider only institutional amendments, departmental errata, and consider individual amendments during the bicam," Salceda told reporters after the meeting of the small committee on Monday.
He said the PHP20 billion will be sourced from the unprogrammed funds of the Department of Transportation.
Salceda noted that a total of PHP5.5 billion will be allocated for the Covid-19 vaccine, PHP2 billion for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program, and PHP300 million for the mental health program.
Also part of the institutional amendments aimed at boosting the country's Covid-19 response efforts are the PHP4-billion funding for the Tulong Panghanap Buhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program of the Department of Labor and Employment; PHP2-billion allocation for the Department of Social and Welfare and Development to assist Filipino families critically impacted by the pandemic; PHP1.7-billion allocation will be added to the budget of the Department of Education to provide internet connection for public school. (PNA)