(Courtesy of HOR Press Bureau)

MANILA – The Senate will approve the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) by the third week of November.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said they will continue deliberations on the proposed PHP5.268-trillion budget when the 19th Congress resumes Monday.

He expects the bicameral approval finished by the second week of December.

“With the hard work and commitment of all our fellow senators, we expect to have two weeks of marathon plenary deliberations, and hopefully we can have it approved on third reading in the Senate as early as the third week of November,” he said in a news release on Sunday.

On the part of the House of Representatives, Speaker Martin Romualdez said they target to ratify the GAB and approve the remaining Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council-priority measures also before the Christmas break starts on December 18.

Romualdez said among the priority sectors are job creation, health, and economic recovery.

“One of our main priorities is to provide social safety nets for the people and help them recover from the economic displacement caused by Covid-19. We will work harder for our economy to recover with agriculture as the major engine for growth and employment,” Romualdez said.

Zubiri said the- sub-committees “carefully combed over our agencies' programs and spending” even after the session adjourned on October 1 “to ensure that the 4.9 percent increase from this year's budget is warranted, and is crucial to the country's continued recovery from the pandemic.”

“I am grateful to all our hardworking senators for ably steering their respective sub-committees, and for keeping us on track with our budget timeline. With everyone keeping the same work ethic and urgency to the plenary, we expect to spend about two weeks in marathon plenary deliberations, and we will hopefully be able to approve the budget as early as the third week of November,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said in a radio interview that he and Senator Risa Hontiveros will be “friendly” during deliberations, although they still have questions regarding intelligence and confidential funds.

He was referring to the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Philippine National Police, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Energy Regulatory Commission, Department of Public Works and Highways, among others.

If slashed, Pimentel said their funds can be realigned to food production, senior citizen benefits, and housing.

Other matters

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe said there are still consultations before finalizing the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 11934 or the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Registration law.

"We await an IRR that will embody the spirit of the law to provide the people a defense in fighting text scams and misinformation," Poe said in a statement on Sunday. "The rules will get the ball rolling in our aim to provide a secure and safe mobile phone use in the country while protecting the right to privacy."

The government has 60 days from the effectivity of the law on October 28 to come up with the IRR.

The National Telecommunications Commission, in coordination with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, National Privacy Commission, telecommunications companies (telcos), and major consumer groups will promulgate the IRR.

The law requires all mobile users to register their SIM as a prerequisite for activation.

All existing SIM holders must register with their telcos within 180 days from the law's effectivity.

The DICT may extend the registration for 120 days and may be done electronically through a platform or website.

In remote areas with limited communication or internet access, relevant government agencies and telcos will facilitate the registration.

"Coming up with the IRR not only signals the urgency to protect the people from scams and misinformation. It also conveys that registration will be facilitated efficiently and securely," Poe said.

In the Lower House, the priority measures are the consolidation of the E-Governance and E-Government Act bills; Medical Reserve Corps; Virology Institute of the Philippines; National Disease Prevention Management; Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and National Service Training Program; Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law; Condonation of Unpaid Amortization and Interests of Loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries; Valuation Reform; Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act; Internet Transaction Act; Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery; Department of Water Resources; New Philippine Passport Act; Waste-to-Energy Bill; Magna Carta of Barangay Health Workers; and National Government Rightsizing Program.

The House of Representatives will likewise try to pass the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers and the Budget Modernization bills not later than December 17. (PNA)