By Butch Fernandez and Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz
SENATE leaders are moving to avert a repeat of the 2019 budget standoff, a scenario that could happen next month if Congress fails to pass the Palace-proposed P4.1-trillion 2020 budget before lawmakers adjourn for their traditional yearend recess on December 20.
Senators on Monday signalled a readiness to work overtime to wrap up their final version of the budget bill, to pave the way for convening the Senate-House conference committee to reconcile differing provisions in the two chambers’ versions, and subsequently have the reconciled version approved before their Christmas break.
Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri confirmed that the senators are set to “open discussions of the 2020 budget on general principles” Tuesday with at least 10 vice chairmen of the finance committee also expected to deliver co-sponsorship speeches.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the sponsoring Finance Committee, confirmed on Monday that health, education and social services were prioritized in the committee report on the P41.1-trillion 2020 national budget being endorsed for plenary approval.
In a statement, Angara credited fellow senators with “further raising the compassion index” of the 2020 national budget by hiking allocations for social services.
Angara also gave assurances the amendments endorsed by the Senate finance committee in the proposed education, health and social welfare programs were “targeted and transparent.”
The senator also cited “a bipartisan consensus to increase funds for the repair of earthquake-damaged schools, school vouchers, free college, school feeding, help for indigent patients, and the deployment of nurses, doctors to poor areas, among others.”
Angara said the “budgetary augmentations” were recommended by the vice chairmen of the Senate’s budget-writing committee “upon the request of the (Executive) departments.”
He added that upon the recommendation of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Pia Cayetano, the Department of Education’s budget was increased by P6.2 billion to “prevent the dropping out of senior high school students studying in private schools using government vouchers.”