EDITORIAL - Deadlock
(The Philippine Star) - March 15, 2019 - 12:00am

Students are preparing for summer vacation and the campaign for the midterm elections in May is heating up. The government has issued a budget call to executive departments, to start drawing up their 2020 outlay proposals for submission to the incoming 18th Congress in July.

Those involved in the complicated task of preparing their office budgets must be shaking their heads in frustration. For the first time since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency, when the national budget was reenacted practically every year, the proposed General Appropriations Act is once again stuck in Congress.

While a reenacted budget does not paralyze the Philippine government, it slows down the delivery of basic services and throws askew timetables for the implementation of projects and programs. In the past, a reenacted budget allowed the Arroyo administration to classify as savings the funds unspent from the previous year’s outlay. Such “savings” could then be impounded and realigned by the government for purposes other than what was intended in the original GAA – a system that provides broad opportunities for graft.

This time, the House of Representatives and Senate are in a deadlock over the P3.757-trillion GAA for 2019. And it looks like a battle simply over what lawmakers see as their personal entitlements in the use of public funds.

House members led by Arroyo were accused by senators of amending the 2019 outlay after it had been approved by the bicameral conference committee, with congressmen inserting P79 billion in funds for itemized projects in certain districts. The House countered that senators realigned P75 billion in lump sum appropriations after the bicameral conference.

It’s as if the Supreme Court never banned the congressional pork barrel. A miffed President Duterte appealed for the approval of the GAA, but said he would not sign an “illegal” budget law. Economic managers warned yesterday that the reenacted budget had effectively frozen the implementation of projects costing nearly P500 billion mostly for the Build, Build, Build program. It was also derailing the delivery of basic services and would likely cut growth figures this year, the economic managers warned.

It may be expecting too much of lawmakers to set aside their selfish interests and pass the GAA. The people, especially those who are feeling the adverse effects of a reenacted budget, can take their revenge in the May elections.

2019 MIDTERM ELECTIONS GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO
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