Delayed
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2018 - 12:00am

Budget Secretary Ben Diokno was characteristically blunt when he asked the legislators to put duty before leisure. He was referring to the looming delay in the passage of next year’s budget. That will cause an automatic reenactment of this year’s budget.

Those speaking for the Philippine Senate earlier estimated the new budget would be passed toward the end of January next.  Yesterday, a new estimate put February as the more likely date for passage of the new budget.

It is not clear why there is a delay on the part of the Senate. There are indications some senators want to look at the budget more closely, suspecting their colleagues in the House have inserted items that amount to pork.

But then it could be possible the senators did not want to work too hard as the holidays loom nearer. Many senators are seeking reelection to their posts in the midterm elections and have starter roaming around looking for votes. One senator is retiring early to take up a Cabinet post. The chamber may be shorthanded as this year draws to a close.

Fortunately, unlike in the US, our government does not need to shut down when the spending bill does not pass Congress on time. This year’s budget is simply reenacted.

When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was president, the opposition vented their anger and frustration at her administration by routinely reenacting the budget. Opposition politicians stopped doing that when they realized reenacting the previous year’s budget actually strengthened the hand of the sitting president. It allowed the chief executive to reallocate project funds freely.

Our legislators deal with the spending bill in strange ways. During the budget hearings, they bamboozled officials of the executive branch to win concessions for their constituencies. They put in what were euphemistically called “congressional insertions” to beef up funds for project they preferred.

It is hard to believe that this year’s delay in passing the spending bill is in the main due to legislative indolence. Nothing excites our legislators more than mangling the proposed budget and gaining advantages from the exercise.

There is something else at play in this delay. It is something that our best investigative journalists might eventually lay bare.

At any rate, the delay in passing a new budget will be costly for the economy. It will delay the implementation of key infrastructure projects sponsored by the executive branch. It could cause our economic growth to lose momentum.

We lost the major portion of this year fighting off escalating inflation. We need to resume the economic expansion as quickly as possible. The delay in passing the spending bill gets in the way of that.

Peacemaker

Even in the most private of conversations, I never heard Jess Dureza disparage those on the other side of the negotiating table. No one was more hopeful than this man of the inevitability of good will overcoming adversity.

Because of that unyielding hopefulness (some might call him naïve), Dureza was uniquely qualified to head the government peace panel dealing with the MILF and the CPP-NPA. He never let the small things get in the way of the worthwhile goals. He never bothered to indulge in pointless tit-for-tat with the state’s most intractable adversaries.

The other day, Dureza tendered his resignation after President Duterte dismissed two of his underlings for corruption. It was something an honorable man, such as he is, would do.

Dureza does not leave without accomplishment. He patiently worked the Bangsamoro Organic Law through the very complicated course. That law may or may not be carried in the referendum scheduled for early next year. This will all depend on whether the Tausugs are convinced to support this. The MNLF is not yet fully dedicated to this process.

The talks with the CPP-NPA remain in purgatory. Formal negotiations were suspended multiple times by President Duterte. Now it seems the talks, at least in their old format, may not resume at all.

There are a number of strategic and procedural issues hounding peace negotiations with the communists. There has, for one, never been enough confidence in the sincerity of the communists to carry this process through to a final political settlement.

Government’s acceptance of the communist package of “political and economic reforms” has long been questioned. An outlaw group, the CPP-NPA enjoys no standing dictating on political and economic policies arrived at by a duly elected government.

From the very beginning, there has been debate over whether government should be negotiating at all with the aging, self-exiled band based in Utrecht. There is enough reason to doubt their effective control over forces on the ground. The more viable route, some argue, is to negotiate with the local leaders who actually manage the insurgency.

In its present format, the largely obsolete leaders based abroad have managed to use the negotiations as a platform to grandstand and pretend to represent the forces doing the actual fighting. These obsolete leaders consolidated their hold over the peace process by coopting locally based leaders, presenting them as “consultants” to the negotiations.

The government side has also been criticized for failing to demand enough confidence-building measures from the communists. To this day, there is no evidence of consensus building among the forces on the ground toward the acceptance of a political settlement.

In response to Dureza’s resignation, foreign based communist leaders asserted that the peace talks remain on track. That might be a vain hope.

Dureza is the last to give these communist leaders enough space to keep up the pretense of a peace process.

2019 NATIONAL BUDGET
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