Davao City 3rd District Representative and House Committee on Appropriations chair Isidro Ungab denied the claim made by Camarines Sur Representative and House Deputy Speaker for Finance Luis Raymond (LRay) Villafuerte that House Bill No. 4228, or the General Appropriations Bill for 2020, was prematurely filed thus the later’s decision to withdraw it.

Villafuerte said Sunday that his decision to move for HB 4228’s withdrawal was made on the belief that it was a “premature” filing of the budget bill on first reading, considering that all departments and other agencies of the government have yet to finish presenting their respective budget proposals at that time.

“The bill’s withdrawal was not an issue; it was just a procedural matter as the presentation of the budget proposals of all government offices before the House appropriations committee have yet to be completed at the time of HB 4228’s filing on first reading,” Rep. Villafuerte said.

“In fact, the remaining offices that have yet to present their 2020 budget proposals are expected to finish doing so by the end of this workweek yet—so how can the House appropriations committee submit HB 4228 without having heard the presentations of all government agencies covered by the proposed 2020 GAA (General Appropriations Act)?” he added.

In his reply, Rep. Ungab dismissed Rep. Villafuerte’s claim saying that the filing of HB No. 4228 was not premature as they “cannot conduct budget hearings without a bill filed for first reading, with the budget bill being a replica of the NEP.”

“Hence, all our meetings are called briefings, which will be converted into hearings once we conduct an executive meeting on the budget. GAB has always followed the NEP. That is the established procedure. Should there be amendments to be made based on those briefings, we include these in the committee report to be filed before we proceed to floor deliberations. Since we are about to finish the briefings by this week, it is just proper to file the bill and have it printed,” Ungab explained.

The Dabawenyo solon said they want to have the budget approved on 2nd and 3rd reading before they go on recess by October 5.

“This is the practice we’ve been doing for so long which ensures transparency and participation in the budget hearings,” he said.

LETTER OF OBJECTION

On Monday, September 2, Rep. Ungab said that he would formally question Villafuerte’s withdrawal of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill which was filed for 1st reading last August 28.

In his letter to Villafuerte, Ungab said he would express his objection to the Camarines Sur lawmaker’s decision to withdraw the 2020 GAB which Ungab’s committee filed last Wednesday evening. The same bill was withdrawn by Rep. Villafuerte on the same evening.

“This is to formally relay my objection to the withdrawal of House Bill 4228 or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for FY 2020 which was scheduled for first reading last Wednesday, August 28, 2019,” Ungab stated in his letter to be submitted Monday.

The Dabawenyo solon cited the following reasons for his strong objection:

1. The established procedure and practice of the Committee on Appropriations in the House of Representatives is to prepare the General Appropriations Bill or GAB immediately after submission by the Executive Department of the National Expenditure Program or NEP. The GAB which is prepared by the Committee Secretariat is a faithful copy of the NEP.

2. The printing of the General Appropriations Bill is almost finished at the APO-NEDA, the copies of which can be immediately distributed to the members of the House of Representatives once delivered.

3. As per our schedule of activities for the briefings of the proposed 2020 budget, the last day is on September 6, 2019 and the preparation of the Committee Report will be on September 10, 2019. Plenary deliberations is also scheduled to start on September 12, 2019 until October 4, 2019 which is the planned approval of the GAB on third and final reading. We prepared this schedule of activities in order to approve the 2020 Budget on time before our break on October 5, 2019.

Ungab said Rep. Villafuerte’s proposal to withdraw and amend the General Appropriations Bill for FY2020 will definitely derail the schedule and approval of the budget.

“The staff are now all busy preparing for the plenary and pre-plenary deliberations, gathering data and reports requested by members of the House related to the budget. To prepare another set of General Appropriations Bill will require enormous time, efforts and resources that will surely affect or delay the passage of the 2020 Budget,” he said.

Ungab said they do not want a repeat of the 2019 incident where the national budget was delayed for several months and ended with some of its provisions being vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Needless to say, any alteration of the National Expenditure Program or NEP, which is the version of your revised General Appropriations Bill, will surely raise doubts on our proceedings and the House will be questioned on why it will alter the proposed budget prepared by the Executive Department,” Ungab told Villafuerte in his letter.

A House member who requested anonymity said that the withdrawal could be but another ploy of some congressmen to insert or realign funding for their districts.

The solon said they will block this effort as this could be another reason for President Duterte to veto some parts of the GAA like what he did in the 2019 national budget that delayed for several months due to alleged insertions by some lawmakers.

PORK-FREE BUDGET FOR 2020

In a statement to the media Sunday, Rep. Villafuerte assured the public that the 2020 Budget “will be transparent and pork-free”.

“Process will be inclusive and transparent. Budget aims to implement President Duterte’s vision of a safe and comfortable life for all,” said Rep. Villafuerte.

“The House leadership under Speaker Cayetano is fully committed to having the 2020 GAB acted upon in a timely manner and for all committee and plenary deliberations on this bill fully transparent and in keeping with the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling against so-called pork barrel funds for legislators,” Villafuerte said, “but this legislative process must not be done with undue haste or making a mockery of the House’s constitutional power of the purse,” he added.

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