House passes 2014 budget in less than an hour

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In a matter of less than an hour, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the P2.68-trillion 2014 national budget on its third and final reading.

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With 219-22-0 votes in favor of the bill, the House of Representatives passed the General Appropriations Bill, also known as the House Bill 2630 at 5:30 p.m., or roughly around 30 minutes. It was approved through nominal voting, or through roll call.

The lawmakers were asked to vote first then explain their no vote later for three minutes once their names were called.

“We do not know what budget we are passing, if how much and what it contains,” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said during the plenary. “I vote no because this is not the budget for the people.”

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said that it was the first time he encountered such voting for the budget.

The national budget no longer has the entry for the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly known as the pork barrel but it still has the equally contentious lump-sum funds under the president’s discretion or what critics called the “presidential pork.”

The PDAF, originally proposed by the executive department at P25.24 billion is now tucked into six different agencies while the funds under Pres. Benigno Aquino 3rd’s discretion—dubbed by critics as the “presidential pork”—pegged at P1.3 billion was retained.

The lawmakers’ pork went to the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Department of Labor and Employment.

The biggest slice of pork went to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the hard projects. Each representative is asked to submit a maximum of seven hard projects of their choice or a total of P25.4 million. Almost all lawmakers submitted, according to House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Isidro Ungab.

“The total scrapping of lump sum as PDAF, it was already distributed to those six agencies. . .then dun kami tumagal sa submission nung DPWH. Almost all congressmen submitted,” Ungab said before the passage of the bill.  “There are only few who did not submit. I haven’t checked each of it yet.”

The few lawmakers who did not propose projects are the members of the Makabayan bloc, namely: Colmenares, Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate; Gabriela Party-list Reps. Emmi de Jesus and Luzviminda Ilagan; Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon; ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio; and Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap; and Atienza, an independent minority member.

According to Ungab, the usual projects proposed by lawmakers are roads, bridges, school buildings, water system, and multipurpose buildings.

Meanwhile, the president’s discretionary funds include the P310 billion special purpose funds, and P139 billion unprogrammed funds, P62.6 billion conditional cash transfer funds, and P1.4 billion intelligence and confidential expenses.

The budget deliberation is now at the Senate and the chamber is expected to tackle the bill on its first reading once the Congress resumes on November 18.

The HB 2630 was certified as urgent by Aquino last week so the Congress can pass it before the year ends. JHOANNA BALLARAN

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