MANILA, December 3, 2004 (STAR) By Jose Rodel Clapano - With Congress running out of time to pass the 2005 national budget, the government may have to operate on a reenacted budget for the first few months of next year, Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. said yesterday.

Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on finance, said despite the House of Representatives approving the P907.7 billion budget on second reading last Wednesday, the Senate cannot pass this measure even with "marathon or special sessions" before the end of the year.

He said the House has not yet turned the budget over to the Senate, and that their chamber may receive the measure by late next week.

Villar said with only two weeks left before Congress adjourns on Dec. 16, it is almost certain that the government will operate on a reenacted budget for at least the first few months of 2005.

"The Senate needs at least one month to review the budget. We are willing to work overtime, but we are really running out of time. We still have to work on the tax revenue measures, which also need our immediate attention," he said.

Villar said operating on a reenacted budget in 2005 is "ridiculous" since it would be the third consecutive year the government would run on such a budget.

"I agreed to a partial reenactment this year because of time constraints only," he said, citing that the proposed 2005 budget has been with the House for four months.

Villar said while the Senate is fully aware that "time is of the essence here, it is also crucial for us to give the budget enough focus and concentration." He added that his committee is willing to work double-time to help facilitate the passage of the budget into law.

He pointed out that the Senate passed the 2004 budget in a record-breaking five days, but the House refused to meet for bicameral talks on the measure.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said a special session can be convened during the Christmas break to expedite the approval of the 2005 national budget.

Congress can be adjourned on Dec. 24 instead of Dec. 16, and can hold sessions from Dec. 26 to 29 if absolutely necessary, he said.

However, Pimentel said even these additional session days will not make much of a difference — it is simply physically impossible for Congress to approve the budget bill before the end of the year.

"Had the President presented the (proposed) General Appropriations Act when she made her State of the Nation Address last July, the GAA could have been approved by now. The delay in its approval is nobody’s fault but hers," he said.

Pimentel explained that though the House passed the budget measure on second reading, it will not be forwarded to the Senate until mid-December.

"It will take at least 10 days to have the amended budget bill printed and approved on third and final reading by the House. But we only have about seven session days left if we will follow the legislative calendar," he said.

Pimentel warned that a reenacted 2004 budget "would reduce the whole appropriation to a presidential pork barrel."

The final version of the 2005 national budget will be approved not later than Feb. 28 next year, he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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