In a statement, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez expressed hope that the Senate and House of Representatives would soon be able to resolve their deadlock to allow the government to operate on a new budget.
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DOF urges Congress to break budget impasse
Mary Grace Padin (The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Finance (DOF) has called on both houses of Congress to break their impasse on the national budget or the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA),  warning that a further delay would make it hard for the government to catch up with its spending plan.

In a statement, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez expressed hope that the Senate and House of Representatives would soon be able to resolve their deadlock to allow the government to operate on a new budget.

Congress has yet to transmit the enrolled copy of the 2019 budget as the House and Senate accused each other of making last-minute adjustments to the P3.757-trillion budget after it was approved by the bicameral conference committee. In the meantime, the government is operating on a reenacted budget.

According to Dominguez, it would take approximately one month for the 2019 GAA to take effect once the enrolled copy of the bill is transmitted to Malacañang – given the few days the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) would need to go over the budget, the days that the President would review the bill and sign it into law, and the two weeks required for the publication of the GAB before it is to take effect.

In an earlier press briefing, Dominguez said the delay in the budget costs the government around P500 million a day in opportunities lost, which could have been spent for the provision of education, healthcare and infrastructure.

“For the first quarter of the year, the fact that we did not have the budget that we presented meant that we had P46 billion less to spend in the first 90 days. Now, if you divide P46 billion into 90 days, that’s half a billion pesos a day that we are not spending to create jobs, that we are not spending to improve the infrastructure, that we are not spending for better healthcare, better education,” Dominguez said following the 175th meeting of the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC).

He also said the delay wasted the government the opportunity to implement its projects in the first quarter of the year, which he described as the best period for the construction of infrastructure projects.

The finance chief had warned that should Congress further delay the budget, it might become hard for the government to regain its pace of spending, given the weather constraints in the latter part of the year.

“In reality, you have to take into consideration the weather considerations in the latter half of the year. No matter how much you want to fast-track it, if the rains are heavy, you just can’t catch up. Of course, everybody will make every effort to do that but since we are subject to weather conditions, in reality it would be very difficult,” he pointed out.

Given its impact on spending, the DBCC earlier decided to slash the government’s gross domestic product (GDP) target to a range of six to seven percent, from the original goal of seven to eight percent. This is based on the assumption that the 2019 national budget would not be enacted until April.

The inter-agency committee also cut the government’s disbursement program to P3.78 trillion this year, from the previous goal of P3.83 trillion.

Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. claimed that the Senate, under the leadership of Senate President Vicente Sotto III, has in effect been “crippling” President Duterte’s massive infrastructure program by removing at least P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of the government’s Build Build Build projects. 

 “The Senate’s removal of P17 billion worth of right-of-way funding will be the greatest stumbling block for the President’s infrastructure master plan. The line-itemized budgeting by the House will not cripple the program… With all these talks of alleged realignment by the House of DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) funds, one thing is clear: the funds were there and were never taken out of the public works’ budget,” he said.

Sources in the House have disclosed that the “post-bicam realignments” made by the Senate, led by Sen. Loren Legarda who heads the finance committee, amounted to P74.8 billion. 

They revealed that senators removed the P2.2-billion greening project of Department of Environment and Natural Resources all over the country, except for one province where the outgoing senator will be running for a congressional seat in the May 13 midterm elections; the P3-billion Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) scholarship funding and P17 billion for the Build Build Build program of the Duterte administration.

 Aside from these, they said the DOTr’s budget was slashed by P5 billion, the Department of Agriculture’s by P831 million and Department of Foreign Affairs’ by P2.5 billion. Also slashed were P7 billion from the miscellaneous personnel benefits fund and P39.9 billion from “pension and gratuity.” Reductions were also noted in the Department of Energy (BGSC) by P680 million, National Irrigation Authority by P852 million, and LGSF (local government support fund) by P100 million. 

Emerging House faction

In a related development, a group of lawmakers banded together to support the stand taken by Sotto and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on the allocation of pork barrel funds, expressing fears of last-minute changes to public works and health funds.  

“The chairman of the House appropriations committee has virtually usurped the powers of the entire Congress, including the Senate, by introducing on his own post-ratification changes to the budget,” a congressman who requested anonymity said.  

“We already have a manifesto supporting President Duterte’s and Sotto’s resolve to reject the budget bill loaded with illegal last-minute insertions,” said a congressman belonging to the PDP-Laban party but who refused to be identified for fear of “vengeful funding cutbacks.” 

 “We have no choice but to speak out against the highly anomalous eleventh-hour revisions to the ratified budget, which are bound to heighten the hazard of costly ‘ghost’ projects,” a congressman from Mindanao warned.      

 He said the signatories to the manifesto were mostly members of the “broader unofficial House minority” bloc. 

 “The allocations meant for several districts were either scrapped or reduced, and then the funds were transferred to other districts,” the legislator added.

 The congressman warned that the anomalous redistribution of Health Facilities Enhancement Program allocations in particular increased the likelihood of future ‘ghost’ or non-existent barangay health stations, among other projects. The HFEP covers spending for the construction, completion and equipping of barangay health stations, among other health-related infrastructure spending. 

“Last year, no less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque exposed brazen anomalies in the construction of 5,700 barangay health stations worth P8.1 billion, the contract for which was sealed during the previous Aquino administration,” the congressman pointed out. – With Delon Porcalla

2019 GENERAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT 2019 NATIONAL BUDGET DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE
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