The proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 was approved by a unanimous Senate on Wednesday.
Certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, Senate’s voting 22-0 passed the measure on its third and final reading right after its passage on second reading.
It was on September 20 that the House of Representatives passed its version of the budget.
Now, representatives from both chambers of Congress will meet for a bicameral conference committee that will separate the differences in the Senate and House versions of the budget.
Palace, however, hoped the measure would not be delayed because of “prolonged partisan discussion,” adding that Duterte will also carefully study the appropriations bill.
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri was also hoping the bicameral conference committee would finish settling the two versions of the measure by the first week of December, so it can be sent earlier to Duterte for his approval.
Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the office of Senate Finance committee, said among the amendments to the budget made by senators is a P32-billion increase for the Salary Standardization Law’s fifth tranche. Moreover, a P3.173-billion budget for a salary hike of more than P9,000 per month of the government nurses.
The Philippine General Hospital’s and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center’s (VMMC) respective budget increased by P644 million and P150 million. The additional funds of VMMC will be used for medicines and hiring of workers.
The Department of Health’s (DOH) budget also increased to further support the vaccination drive, noting that several cases of polio diseases in the country have been emerging this year.
P6 billion, meanwhile, is for the Department of Education’s (DepEd) Last Mile Schools program, and an immediate response fund for the repair and electrification of schools.
Furthermore, state universities and colleges got P1.158-billion increase, that will be used for research programs, conduct of sports and cultural activities, and construction of new buildings and facilities.
Philippine Army got P920 million from the Senate for the activation of an infantry division, which is hoped to directly address the threat of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The Defense department and the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Headquarters have an increased funding as well for their anti-insurgency campaign.
The additional P1.529 billion funding of the Philippine National Police, meanwhile, will also be allotted for its campaign to end local communist groups, for the police’s intelligence and counterintelligence activities, and for the maintenance of their equipment.
According to Angara, they also included in the budget the aid for farmers who were affected by the Rice Tariffication Law.
Furthermore, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Commission on Elections initially got P9.52 billion to increase the budgets of 12 government agencies next year.
The House has previously realigned ₱9.52 billion in the 2020 budget from the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Commission on Elections to increase the budgets of 12 government agencies.
Unlike in 2019, the budget for 2020 cleared both houses of Congress. The previous budget plan was delayed over allegations of anomalous insertions by lawmakers.
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, however, said that the next year’s budget is “pork-free,” but forewarned of possible insertions when the measure reaches the bicameral conference committee.