Zubiri said he and Senate President Vicente Sotto III met with Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other leaders of the House of Representatives in Taguig City shortly after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and discussed the fate of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Geremy Pintolo
Government to operate on reenacted budget for 1 month
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government is likely going to operate on a reenacted budget in the first few weeks of 2019 due to the lack of time in the Senate to deliberate on the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for next year, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

Zubiri said he and Senate President Vicente Sotto III met with Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other leaders of the House of Representatives in Taguig City shortly after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and discussed the fate of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

Arroyo promised to submit the GAB to the Senate on Monday and asked Sotto if the chamber could pass the proposed budget by next month so it could be signed into law before yearend.

Sotto replied that it would be unrealistic to expect the Senate to approve the budget and have Congress ratify it before the end of the year since the House was late in submitting it to the chamber.

“Realistically we only have Dec. 3 to 5, 10 to 12 to be able to pass it on third and final reading. But that’s too short. It’s very difficult to be able to discuss intelligently and lengthily pertinent provisions of the budget at the short period of time,” Zubiri told reporters.

He said Arroyo was quiet after Sotto gave his reply.

Congress will go on a break on Dec. 14 and will resume session in January.

Under a “reenacted budget” regime, the government will be operating on the appropriations of the immediately preceding fiscal year, in this case, the 2018 General Appropriations Act. 

Opting to operate under a previous year’s budget has always been seen as prone to corruption as hundreds of billions listed in the old appropriations are freed and can be disposed of by Malacañang at its own discretion.

What could happen under a best case scenario, Zubiri said, is the Senate will hold marathon deliberations and pass the budget before the break, and the two chambers will try to finish reconciling conflicting provisions of their versions of the budget during the recess.

The GAB will then be ratified at the resumption of session.

“Technically, we’ll have a reenacted budget for two weeks to one month,” Zubiri said.

Probe on underspending

The Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives yesterday vowed to summon Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno over the disappointing and massive underspending of the Duterte administration that has reached P1.3 trillion in 2017. 

“We will summon the budget secretary probably next week,” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, who was tasked to head the body, told reporters in their weekly press briefing. “The slow disbursement of government agencies must be addressed.” 

Rep. Antonio Bravo of party-list Coop-Natcco revealed that underspending is now pegged at P1.3 trillion, computed during the time of former president Benigno Aquino III in 2015 until 2017. No figures have yet been released for 2018 as the fiscal year will end next month. 

“For every peso that we don’t spend, we deprive our citizens of basic services. So, in this (government) is contributory to the underspending,” Bravo said, adding that records showed that as of 2017, P220 billion has not been released. “Now, there’s no report of savings.” 

Their colleague, Rep. Salvador Belaro Jr. of party-list 1-Ang Edukasyon, decried the unreleased P2.9 billion funding for the salary increase for 30,000 faculty or college professors in state colleges and universities. 

Suarez and senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza also bewailed the non-transparency in the funds available in revenue-generating National Road Board and Malampaya funds, which they feared may “become discretionary” on the part of the executive department. 

“These funds should be going to the energy sector, or on government efforts to alleviate the high cost of fuel,” Atienza, of Buhay party-list, pointed out as he accepted the challenge to scrutinize funds allocated as well as how these are spent by agencies. 

Suarez said there are five most problematic agencies when it comes to disbursements: the Departments of Public Works and Highways, Health, Agriculture, Education and Social Welfare and Development. 

“The minority is concerned that the people’s purse might be used for personal campaigns of candidates and re-electionists, instead of its true public purpose,” the congressman from Quezon province warned. 

“We call on the (budget department) to appear before the House to explain and correct the irregularities in the implementation of the 2018 budget and in the proposed 2019 budget,” Suarez said. “We need a cohesive government that will put forth the public’s welfare.” 

The opposition leader likewise lamented that one month away before the year ends, only 60 percent of the total funds have been downloaded to the government agencies, thereby decelerating growth and delaying even more the implementation of projects. 

“In August, year-to-date spending was at P2.1 trillion out of the P3.7- trillion national budget. This merely amounts to 60 percent of the budget with only four months left to the year,” Suarez said. 

“We urge the heads of the agencies to strictly monitor the accomplishments of their programs, particularly the big-ticket infrastructure projects and hasten completion. This should generate more jobs and increase household income,” he added. – With Delon Porcalla

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with