This means the national government will have to operate beginning next month on the basis of this year’s outlay, which is bigger by P10 billion and is deemed automatically recycled under the Constitution.
Michael Varcas
Congress fails to pass 2019 budget bill
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - December 14, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers adjourned their session for their month-long Christmas vacation without approving the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for next year.

This means the national government will have to operate beginning next month on the basis of this year’s outlay, which is bigger by P10 billion and is deemed automatically recycled under the Constitution.

Next year will be the first time in eight years that the budget will be reenacted and the first time under the Duterte administration. The last time it happened was during the presidency of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Due to lack of time, the Senate failed to pass the House of Representatives version of the spending bill for next year. Senators started plenary debates on the measure only last week.

According to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, even if President Duterte convenes lawmakers to a special session during their Christmas vacation, they would still not be able to approve the budget.

Aside from the time senators need to pass the outlay, a conference between the House and the Senate to reconcile their divergent versions would take days, he said.

As far as Sotto was concerned, a special session would be fruitless. Senators Panfilo Lacson and Juan Miguel Zubiri appealed to the President not to convene a special session.

Sotto said lawmakers might as well work on the budget when they reconvene by the middle of next month.

That means that the government would have to use the recycled 2018 budget at least for the whole month of January.

“I’m not interpellating on the budget of the Office of the President. This is just a very quick manifestation and I’d like to take advantage of the presence of Executive Secretary (Salvador) Medialdea. I would like to issue an appeal to him not to endorse the anticipated recommendation of Secretary of DBM (Department of Budget Management) Ben Diokno to call for a special session,” said Lacson before the Senate deliberated on the 2019 budget of the Office of the President in the plenary.

“And even if the President calls for a special session, even if we extend our session for another five days, for another week, it is impossible, Mr. President, for us to enact the budget bill before the year ends,” he said.

“We did try our best to pass the budget. We worked all week last week until Friday evening and we’ve been working all week this week,” he added.

“So I’d like to again reiterate, of course with the concurrence of this body, I’d like to make that appeal. Quoting Jesus Christ: ‘the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,’ Mr. President,” he said.

A day lost

Zubiri, for his part, said the Senate lost a day” with the special session for the martial law extension.

“Physically, it would be impossible and to go with a special session, I doubt if we will have a quorum in both houses (Senate and House of Representatives),” Zubiri said.

“We can work on the budget again when we resume Jan. 14,” he added.

Members of President Duterte’s economic team, including Diokno, have claimed that using a recycled budget would have an adverse impact on the economy.

But House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. disputed such assertion, saying government operations would not grind to a half if a reenacted outlay were used.

He said he knew that from experience. He was budget secretary during the Arroyo administration, which was forced to recycle the budget for three years due to the failure of Congress to approve the funding bill on time.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda has said the President wanted to sign the 2019 budget next Saturday.

He said budget reenactment “is bad policy and bad for the economy.”

“Based on calculations made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), if the P3.767-trillion 2018 budget were recycled, only P3.3 trillion would be available for spending. The balance of P467 billion would not be reenacted. That is P467 billion taken away from the economy. The negative effect would be 1.2-1.5 percent in growth,” he said.

He said the disagreement between congressmen and Diokno on the latter’s “cash-based budgeting” innovation caused a two-week delay in deliberations on the 2019 spending bill in September.

“And then we discovered P52 billion that could not be supported. We decided to realign this huge amount on Oct. 11, when we approved the budget on second reading, provided that the list of projects and programs to be funded will come from Malacañang, since this is their proposed outlay. The list never came. Preparation of the third-reading copy (of the budget bill) was delayed for one more month,” he said.

During Wednesday’s House question hour on the 2019 budget, Diokno admitted that the alleged P52-billion insertion actually amounted to P75 billion.  

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he has discovered around P16.18 billion in lump-sum appropriation supposedly for assisting local government units (LGUs) “mysteriously lying” in the proposed P3.575-trillion national budget.

However, the government’s principal agency tasked to assist LGUs disowned the fund, claiming no knowledge of the amount, Drilon said.

The senator zeroed in on the huge increase in a lump-sum appropriation called Local Government Support Fund (LGSF), which was budgeted with P40.26 billion for next year, up by P8.8 billion this year.

The bulk of the fund is supposed to be used for Assistance to Municipalities, P11.7 billion; Assistance to Cities, P2.6 billion; Other financial assistance to LGUs, P16.18 billion; and conditional matching grant to provinces, P8.2 billion.  

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, who defended DILG’s budget, confirmed the agency has nothing to do with the implementation of P16.18-billion provision.

“This is quite a sizeable sum of money. This assistance to LGUs is a mandate of the DILG. But now you’re saying, the DILG has nothing to do with these funds?” Drilon asked.

“This is a mystery. Who’s the lord who will say where the fund will be used,” he said.

“This budget is full of mysteries waiting to be uncovered. Each day we discover something new. Hence, the Senate should intensify its scrutiny of the spending bill,” he added.

On Wednesday, Arroyo  reported that under her leadership, the House of Representatives was able to pass all 15 priority pieces of legislation. –  with Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero

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