Senate President Vicente Sotto III was not pleased with the House of Representatives’ unprecedented move to suspend sessions until next month, raising the possibility of a reenacted national budget next year.

sotto5 - Sotto unhappy over House’s abrupt suspension of sessions
Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

“The HOR has just disregarded the request priority of the President to pass the budget. There is no way we can finish the budget if it is not submitted to us before the mandated break after Oct. 14. Do not blame us!” Sotto said in a text message when sought to comment on their counterpart’s decision on Tuesday.

Amid the speakership row in the lower chamber, the House of the Representatives (HOR) suspended its sessions ahead of their scheduled suspension next week.  They will resume on November 16.

It was Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who moved to terminate their debates on the P4.506-trillion 2021 General Appropriations Bill and immediately approve it on second reading.

Cayetano, who delivered a second privilege speech to again take a jab at his rival Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, proposed to instead create a group that would consolidate all the committee and individual amendments to the budget bill by November 5.

After voting on the second reading approval of the 2021 budget measure, the plenary decided to suspend their session.

According to the 18th Congress’ legislative calendar, sessions are set to be suspended starting October 16.

Sotto, however, had expected that the House will transmit the GAB to the Senate within the month so they will have enough time to deliberate on its provisions and pass it on final reading on time. In 2019, the government was forced to operate on a reenacted budget due to the delay in the budget’s approval.

Asked if the move by the House could result in another reenacted budget, Sotto replied: “Yes, most probably.”

Sotto also said he cannot yet ascertain that the Senate will be able to pass the GAB in time for the President’s signing before year-end.

“I cannot promise anything. I cannot speak for my colleagues when it comes to the budget,” he told reporters.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee handling the budget, said: “We were hoping that the House would approve the budget bill on third reading BEFORE the congressional break next week as was promised, so the Senate could begin its plenary debates upon resumption of sessions on Nov 16.”

“As it is the schedule is very tight,” he added.

While admitting that they could not impose on their counterpart, Angara said he hoped that the House could still comply with their original schedule.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, on the other hand, said he believes that Congress will still be able to pass the budget before year-end, despite the House’s move.

“The Senate traditionally holds morning to midnight debates for two weeks on the General Appropriations Act. That will still be observed this year. There will be no reenacted budget but a revamped budget is a certainty,” Recto said, recognizing the lower chamber’s prerogative.

Senator Panfilo Lacson likewise opined that they will have enough time to avoid a reenacted budget.

“Depending on which date in November they can approve on third reading the House version of 2021 GAB, not to mention the nature of their amendments, I think we have enough time to finish our floor deliberations and avoid a re-enacted budget,” Lacson said for his part.

Sen. Christopher Go also says he hopes that the House decision to suspend session til November “will not adversely affect the passage of the 2021 budget.” 

“Umaasa po kasi ang taumbayan na matutulungan sila ng panibagong budget sa susunod na taon para makaahon sa hirap na dulot ng COVID 19 (The people are hoping that they will be assisted by the new budget for next year)…We cannot afford to have a reenacted budget not suited for COVID-19 recovery,” he said in a statement.

“Hindi ko rin alam kung ano dahilan ng desisyon ng leadership ng Lower House (I also do not know the reason behind that decision of the Lower House’s leadership). Diskarte nila ‘yan (That’s their prerogative). Ang sa akin lang, dapat hindi maapektuhan ang pagpasa ng 2021 budget (But to me, this should not affect the passage of the 2021 budget),” he maintained.

Congress had failed to pass the 2019 national budget on time due to the wrangling of lawmakers over the questionable allocations, which some related to the sudden ouster of former Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez as House Speaker in 2018. 

Former president and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo replaced Alvarez.

Under the Constitution, the national budget should emanate from the House of Representatives. The Senate cannot start plenary debates on it without the official transmittal of the House-approved measure.

The budget hearings that are being conducted in the Senate are based on the National Expenditure Program submitted by the executive department.

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