Senators welcome 2021 budget extension

MANILA, Philippines, November 24 ------ The Senate is expected to approve a bill extending the validity of the 2021 national budget to allow continued disbursements of funds for vital projects that were not completed due to the pandemic. Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate committee on finance that is drafting the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022, backed the move of the House of Representatives to approve a counterpart measure to extend this year’s General Appropriations Act.

“We personally support the extension and hopefully our colleagues in the Senate will, too, because of the extended lockdowns, budget and project implementation has been less efficient and smooth and rather than the funds reverting back to the national treasury,” Angara said. He said it would be better for the country’s economic recovery if Congress were to extend the effectivity of the 2021 budget to allow concerned authorities to implement projects and fund programs which might have been delayed during the year for one reason or another.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has also pushed for the extension of this year’s appropriations in the chamber until the end of 2022, given what he said was the dismal disbursement rate of 31.5 percent due to COVID-19 pandemic. “That means for every P1,000 the Congress appropriated, only P300 is disbursed this year. That is unacceptable, especially when we look at the statistics: 4.2 million Filipino families experiencing involuntary hunger and four million Filipinos unemployed. We should use the budget in order to generate economic activities, feed Filipinos and create jobs amid the pandemic,” he said.

Drilon, however, said the extension should prompt government agencies to exert all efforts to spend the funds allocated to them. “The extension of the national budget should carry with it a tall order to every agency to make sure that every peso that is appropriated is spent in a judicious and timely manner,” the senator said. “Underspending is like a disease that impedes our growth. I urge Congress to carry out its oversight of the national budget and monitor the spending of the budget,” he said. Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he expects the proposed 2022 General Appropriations Bill to be passed by Congress next month as senators are working overtime or way past midnight to have it approved in the chamber next week.

Budget deliberations in the Senate were delayed by three days after the chamber shut down due to a COVID scare when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana – who was physically present last week – was initially tested positive for the disease. Senators and staff present during the budget deliberations for the Department of National Defense later tested negative for the disease.