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The House of Representatives passed on third and final reading the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, according to a report by CNN Philippines.

With 267 affirmative votes and six negative votes, the General Appropriations Bill was finally approved on Friday, the last day of the special session called by President Rodrigo Duterte amid the speakership squabble that would have pushed back the passage to November.

This was after the lower chamber, led by then House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, abruptly passed the spending bill on second reading, terminate plenary debates, and suspend session until Nov. 16. The move was seen as a political maneuver to prevent Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco from taking the top post.

Early this week, 186 lawmakers elected Velasco as Speaker, allowing him to preside as session resumed on Tuesday. The House then withdrew the second reading approval of the budget, launching marathon hearings that lasted until past midnight.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said Velasco "promised best effort" to transmit the bill to Senate by Oct. 28. It was certified as urgent by President Duterte.

He said a late endorsement could result in delay, something lawmakers have been trying to avoid so there would be no reenacted budget.

During the plenary debates on Friday, committee on appropriations chair Eric Yap said a copy will be submitted to the Senate by Oct. 25, so there will be no more reason for a reenacted or delayed budget.

Under a reenacted budget, the country will run using the financial plan for the previous year. Officials said the country cannot afford this to happen since the proposed 2021 budget includes funds for pandemic response and recovery, including subsidies to ailing industries and vaccine purchases.

In his speech, Velasco said this is "a budget for lives and livelihood." He also congratulated all House members in their involvement in the passage of the budget.

In an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday night, Yap believes the Senate has enough time to pass the 2021 national budget because they have already started their budget deliberations for government agencies and the chamber will resume its session on Nov. 9, one week earlier than the scheduled resumption date on Nov. 16 according to the legislative calendar.

Yap assured the passed 2021 national budget by the Lower House have fair allocations for each congressional districts, depending on the needs and population of their constituencies. This follows after the misunderstanding on budget allocations that Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves raised to then House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano early this month.

"Like in Quezon City, there are no farm-to-market-roads. In Benguet, it needs more farm-to-market-roads because it is a vegetable (producing) province," cited Yap.

Yap added graft and corruption has no room in the 2021 national budget because funds are allocated in line items, which contain detailed breakdown of a project's cost that needs to be fulfilled in a year.

"Like in the Department of Health's budget, it is specified how many vaccines will be allocated in a certain locality and how many hospital beds will be built. In the Department of Education, the number of tablets to be given and classrooms to be constructed are identified," said Yap. "In this way, we can easily audit if the funds allocated are spent correctly which we will check using my oversight functions."

A small committee was also formed tasked to consolidate and finalize all proposed amendments for the proposed 2021 budget. Proposed amendments shall be submitted until Oct. 19. The committee members include:

From the Majority :

- Majority leader Martin Romualdez

- Rep. Eric Yap

- Rep. Jack Duavit

- Rep. Joet Garcia

- Rep. Joey Salceda

- Rep. Eileen Ermita Buhain

- Rep. Bernadette Herrera

- Rep. Sharon Garin

- Rep. Doy Leachon

- Rep. XJ Romualdo

- Rep. Edgar Sarmiento

- Rep. Luisa Cuaresma

From the Minority:

- Rep. Stella Quimbo

- Rep. Edcel Lagman


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