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Reenacted budget woes: DPWH workers greet new year jobless

Official reports have yet to emerge regarding the total number of government workers affected by the delay in the passage of the 2019 national budget. But in Tacloban City alone, more than 3,700 workers under the public works department have become jobless as a result.

Records from the Region 8 office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) showed that 3,786 workers—personnel listed as contractuals or under the job order (JO) category—have been told not to report for duty starting Jan. 1, as the agency could no longer pay their salaries.

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Without a 2019 allocation, the DPWH is now operating under last year’s reenacted budget.

Tonette Lim, DPWH regional information officer, said it would be unfair to ask JO workers to report for work without pay while the proposed P3.8-trillion 2019 national budget remained pending in Congress.

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Work affected

At Lim’s own office, five workers had been asked not to report for work, she said. “At present, only two of us are doing all the work. Without our JO staff, our work is really affected because they were really a great help to us.”

All 13 district engineering offices of DPWH-Region 8 have been affected by the nonpassage of the 2019 national budget, she added.

“Ana,” a JO staffer for the past 10 years who earns about P14,300 monthly, said she had felt anxious about joining the ranks of the unemployed. “My concern is our daily expenses. I have four children who are all in school.”

Diokno assurance

Also affected by the budget impasse are other government employees whose scheduled salary increases have been delayed by a month.

The raise, which should have taken effect at the start of the year, could be released next month, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said on Friday.

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“With pronouncements from Congress that the budget bill will be their top priority upon resumption (of session) next week, we expect the GAA [the General Appropriations Act] to be signed [in the] first week [of] February,” Diokno said in a statement.

Diokno earlier said the salary increase for civilian as well as military and uniformed personnel would only be implemented once the proposed budget is approved.

The additional subsidy under the unconditional cash transfer program for poor families will also remain at P2,400, instead of being increased to P3,600 this year, pending the budget approval, Diokno said.

The higher PhilHealth premium contribution of about P5,000, which is set to take effect this year, will be implemented only when the national budget is approved, Diokno added.

Refuting Andaya

On Wednesday, the budget chief said that since the government was currently operating under a reenacted budget, only the validity of 2018 capital outlays as well as maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) had been extended.

There were no funds provided for personnel services from which salaries as well as other government employee benefits.

Diokno said there was “no legal basis” for the statement made by House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) could already implement the fourth tranche of salary increases scheduled this year.

Basis of increase

Citing Section 11 of Executive Order No. 201 issued by then President Benigno Aquino III in 2016, which became the basis of the salary increase, Diokno explained that implementing the yearly pay raise was “subject to appropriations by Congress.”

Section 15 of the EO authorizes the DBM “to implement or adjust the compensation corresponding to appropriations provided in the GAA,” he added.

This means that only the budget intended for the year—and not the reenacted budget—becomes the source of funding for the pay hike, Diokno said.

Drilon suggestion

Until the 2019 budget is passed, “government employees will continue to receive salaries indexed to the third tranche of the compensation adjustment,” he said. “The implementation of the fourth tranche … will be applied retroactively from Jan. 1, 2019 once the 2019 GAA is signed into law. In effect, government employees will receive salary differentials within the year.”

As for Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s suggestion that the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund be tapped to finance the salary increase, Diokno said the fund could only cover salaries for 2018.

Best solution

“We cannot implement higher pay without legal basis … We need the GAA to be approved,” he said. “(The) best solution is to get the budget passed.”

Despite the delay, Diokno said a DBM-led task force was currently studying the possibility of further granting government workers a raise, from 2020 to 2022, to make their salaries at par with their private sector counterparts.

As for military and uniformed personnel, Diokno told reporters that the current pay structure would remain since Congress Joint Resolution No. 1 was implemented only last year.

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