Congress swiftly OKs 3rd martial law extension while 2019 budget plods along
Senate President Vicente Sotto with House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the nominal voting for the 1 year extension of Martial Law in Mindanao during the 17th Congress third regular session at the House of Representative.
The STAR/Boy Santos
Congress swiftly OKs 3rd martial law extension while 2019 budget plods along
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - December 12, 2018 - 3:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Congress on Wednesday held a joint session where they discussed, and swiftly granted, President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to have martial law in Mindnao extended for the third time.

Meanwhile, the government risks operating on a re-enacted budget in the first quarter of 2019 for the first time in nine years. The country’s economic managers said this could crimp government spending and, in turn, dampen economic growth.

READ: Why a reenacted budget is not good news for the Philippines

Considering these developments, the Duterte administration's priorities are "clearly off," Ateneo School of Government dean Ronald Mendoza said.

"Key decisions are being rushed, with very little evidence-based debate and discussion. We are likely to make grave mistakes in this policy environment," Mendoza said in an interview.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 8169, or the proposed 2019 Fiscal Year General Appropriations Bill on final reading, on November 20. Senators have said the chamber will not have enough time to examine the spending plan before Congress adjourns on December 15.

Under a re-enacted budget, new programs and projects proposed for 2019 will be unfunded since the previous outlay will be reused next year.

Special session for national budget possible

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said Wednesday that President Rodrigo Duterte will likely ask Congress to hold a special session next week to discuss the 2019 national budget, noting that lawmakers are still busy with deliberations on martial law in Mindanao.

Under the Constitution, the President may call a special session at any time.

READ: Duterte wants to sign 2019 budget on December 15

“So there’s a possibility that the president may call for a special session sometime next week to finish the budget. I'll recommend to the president that he call for a special session,” Diokno told a press conference.

“Let’s finish one thing at a time,” he added.

Voting 235-28-1, Congress approved the extension of martial in Mindanao until the end of 2019. Some groups have warned that prolonging military rule in the region, where the government said rebellion exists, could “facilitate a culture of impunity in Mindanao and intensify human rights violations already taking place there.”

"These developments speak a lot about the Duterte administration. These are indications that this administration has the wrong priorities. It should be working on measures to address economic issues," said Dennis Coronacion, a political science professor at the University of Santo Tomas.

‘Congress to blame’

Budget hearings were suspended for three weeks last August after House lawmakers opposed the Duterte administration’s shift to a budgeting system designed to impose fiscal discipline across state offices. 

Despite senators’ promise to pass the new outlay on time, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri reportedly said the Senate would have to adjust their schedule to give way for Wednesday’s joint session on martial law extension, floating anew the possibility of a re-enacted budget.

Meanwhile, concerns over “pork barrel insertions” stoked further scrutiny of the proposed outlay that could possibly delay its passage.

“It’s Congress who should be blamed for this. We have nothing to do with it,” Diokno told reporters. “It (Budget) is now on their (Congress) court. We submitted it on time, in fact ahead of time, to give them more time to work on the budget,"

The National Economic and Development Authority have warned that running a re-enacted budget may hurt the economy.

READ: NEDA: Delayed budget approval likely to slow down economy in 2019

According to Ateneo De Manila University's Mendoza, the review of the national budget "should not be rushed."

"In its haste to implement [Build, Build, Build] projects, measures adopted by the administration to expand and fast-track the program's implementation may run counter to demands for accountability," he said.

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