Hello, martial law extension; goodbye, 2019 budget
Congress’ joint session for martial law extension has added to the delay in passing next year’s P3.757 trillion national budget which a Senate leader said could no longer be done this year.
The Senate and House of Representatives would hold a joint session to deliberate on President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for a third extension of martial law in Mindanao.
Senators said it would be impossible for them to approve the 2019 budget on second and third reading by Thursday, Congress’ last session day.
As a result, a reenacted budget would be adopted in January as senators also planned to insert a provision exempting from the election ban all projects under the President’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the joint session was likely to take up the entire Wednesday, depriving senators of time for the budget.
Zubiri said the House has close to 300 members and explanation of votes on extending martial law would take time.
The Senate planned to complete interpellation on the budget by Thursday.
“But that’s as much as we can do,” Zubiri said.
“Unless the President calls for a special session, we cannot finish the budget on time,” he added.
Zubiri said the budget might be ratified by middle of January and sent to the President for signature at the end of the same month.
He said economic managers’ concern about a delay in Build, Build, Build projects under a reenacted budget could be addressed by inserting a special provision in the 2019 national budget to exempt the projects from the election ban.
Zubiri said the delay in the approval of the 2019 budget was not the Senate’s fault as the House had taken a long time to pass the measure.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said that in previous years, the budget bill had been submitted to the Senate by the second week of November.
This year, it was submitted a few days before December “because of insertions in the House,” Drilon said.
“But it’s not true that government workers would be disadvantaged,” he said.
“We assure our people that the opposition will cooperate so that we can recover from this timetable,” Drilon added.
“We will finish the budget when we come back in January,” he said.
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