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Sustained support for social services and infrastructure development and the country’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are prioritized in the 2008 national budget as contained in the bicameral conference committee report that is slated for ratification by the House of Representatives and the Senate today, 28 January 2008.

This was underscored by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, as he and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, signed the joint conference committee report on House Bill No. 2454, the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2008 which virtually maintained the expenditure ceiling of P1.227 trillion proposed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the National Expenditure Program (NEP).

Overshadowed by the controversial bills competing for passage before the congressional Christmas break, was the unanimous approval on third reading by the House of Representatives of a measure proposing to punish with severity election offenses attended by violence, coercion, intimidation, force or threats.

House Bill No. 1882 principally authored by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman seeks to stamp out the use of violence during elections by imposing grave penalties on offenders up to a maximum imprisonment of 20 years or the equivalent of prision temporal under the Revised Penal Code.

The disagreeing provisions of the House and Senate versions on the 2008 General Appropriations Bill “cannot be vanished instantly by a magic wand, neither are they so disparate nor untouchable by a ten-foot pole.”

This was the assessment made by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations and head of the House panel in the Bicameral Conference Committee on the budget measure, as he disclosed he would be meeting with his Senate counterpart, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, shortly after January 7, 2008 to forge a reconciled appropriations bill.

There is definitely no budget deadlock between the House and Senate panels and it was only the lack of physical time before the congressional recess which prevented the forging of a reconciled annual General Appropriations Bill for 2008.

This was underscored by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations and head of the House panel of the Bicameral Conference Committee which is tasked to harmonize the disagreeing provisions of the Senate and House versions.

The Committee on Appropriations breaks tradition after it approved last Monday, September 17, 2007, the participation of bona fide people’s organizations (POs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in public hearings on the General Appropriations Bill.

Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, endorsed the approval of this innovative approach as suggested by Rep. Lorenzo R. Tanada III and Teofisto L. Guingona III, co-authors of House Resolution No. 120 which is entitled, “Urgent Resolution Allowing the Active Participation of Bona Fide People’s Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations in Public Hearings in Congress’ Annual Budget Deliberations.”