Senators speak with Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar after the plenary session yesterday.
Geremy Pintolo
Senate aims to pass budget next week
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is aiming to pass next week the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for this year following Malacañang’s repeated appeal for Congress to approve the measure as soon as possible.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday the chamber hopes to finish deliberations on the proposed budgets of the remaining government agencies that have yet to pass through plenary this week.

The committee on finance chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda is scheduled to work on putting amendments in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) proposed by senators.

“Since this (GAB) is certified as urgent, we hope to approve it on second reading, and third and final reading on Monday and then approve it, hopefully, in the bicam (bicameral conference committee) on Wednesday,” Zubiri told reporters.

The bicameral conference committee –composed of delegates from the Senate and House of Representatives – when convened will reconcile the conflicting provisions of their respective versions of the GAB.

When asked about the tight schedule, Zubiri said Legarda has appealed to their colleagues to work harder in the plenary deliberations to meet the timetable.

“Hopefully we can do the bicam in one day. We need to be able to use funds for urgent government programs before the election ban sets it,” he said.

Recto said the ratification of the GAB – the final legislative step before the measure is sent to President Duterte for signing – is scheduled the following week.

As of press time, senators were still deliberating on the proposed P555-billion budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The government should be running on a fresh outlay starting Jan. 1, but Congress was not able to pass the GAB last year.

DPWH budget cut eyed

The Senate’s plan to remove the P75-billion additional budget of the DPWH does not bode well for the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program as it could cut the government’s spending on infrastructure, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said yesterday.

While amending the proposed budget is part of the powers of Congress, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said cutting the DPWH’s budget could reduce the government’s investments in infrastructure and the number of potential jobs that could be generated in the construction sector.   

“That’s within the power of Congress. It may opt to agree, amend or mangle the President’s budget. The President proposes the budget, Congress authorizes,” Diokno said.

Senators have agreed to remove the P75-billion allocation for the DPWH, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday.

According to Diokno, the DPWH originally proposed a budget of P652 billion for 2019, but only P480 billion of this amount was initially approved by the DBM.

 The budget chief said the DBM decided to augment this with P75 billion, for a total of P555 billion, to ensure that the government’s infrastructure expenditures reach at least five percent of gross domestic product as targeted.

BOL funds

Diokno has allegedly excluded in this year’s budget the P10-billion supposed allocation for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

 “I hate to be the one to burst the bubble. The DBM has not allocated a budget, not a single centavo, for the BOL plebiscite,” House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said yesterday. “The prospect of lasting peace in Mindanao is in peril.”  

“Everybody is praying for the success of the BOL plebiscite on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6. Yet nobody is asking if we have the funds necessary to conduct the plebiscite,” Andaya said.

He said the Comelec needs P857 million for the BOL plebiscite. – With Delon Porcalla, Mary Grace Padin

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