Deadlock ends as Senate-House panel approves P3.8-T nat’l budget for 2019
MANILA, Philippines — The budget impasse is now over after the Senate-House conference committee signed and approved on Friday the final version of the almost P3.8-trillion 2019 national budget.
Members of the congressional bicameral conference committee met at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City and green-lighted the 2019 expenditure plan despite earlier objections from Senator Panfilo Lacson over alleged pork barrel insertions in the budget.
This year’s spending bill only needs ratification by both chambers of Congress before it could be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for his consideration. Congress only has until this Friday, February 8, to ratify the bicam-approved financial plan, since it would go on an election break.
The updated and comprehensive amendments in the National Expenditure Plan have yet to be given to the media, as of this posting.
House appropriations panel chair Rolando Andaya Jr.’s motion to abandon the cash-based budgeting system this year has also been carried by the two contingents as it faced no objections. This means that this year’s financial plan goes back to the obligation-based system wherein funds could be used within two years.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said the provision exempting some of the government’s “Build, Build, Build program” from the spending ban during the midterm elections was removed.
“Unfortunately hindi na-retain ‘yung provision na ‘yun which was part of my amendment as well but, there is a process that you could go to COMELEC (Commission on Elections (Comelec) to ask for an exemption,” Recto said in an interview before the approval.
Shortly before the approval, Andaya also requested that the bicam add a one-sentence amendment in the proposed budget to ensure P2.36 billion funding for district hospitals in 70 provinces that would be automatically appropriated as part of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). The Senate panel led by Senator Loren Legarda concurred.
During her opening speech, Legarda also mentioned some of the amendments they made in the General Appropriations Bill. The Senate finance panel chair said they restored P21 billion for health care facilities and health personnel that were absent in the National Expenditure Program. She also said both chambers agreed to allot P800 million for teacher’s allowance on the celebration of World Teacher’s Day, as well as augment the school-based feeding program by around P1 billion.
Legarda also mentioned that the following programs were funded in the bicam-approved spending bill: increase in the allowances of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units; increase in the police per capita maintenance and other operating expenses of the Philippine National Police (PNP); purchase of medicines for veterans; basic social and economic services such as cash for work, government internship programs, and scholarships; creation of a new infantry division in Mindanao; PNP’s new 911 command center; public markets nationwide under the Department of the Interior and Local Government; Education Department programs for school buildings and books; the Bangsamoro Organic Law; as well as the budget for the rice tariffication.
But Legarda did not provide further details on these projects.
“Finally we are honored to present a version of the budget that is pro-poor, pro-development, pro-inclusive and sustainable development… pro-Filipino,” the lady senator said stressing that all of the senators’ amendments were institutional.
“We are sure that this budget is fair, just and equitable,” she added.
Andaya meanwhile said the House would await the veto message of President Rodrigo Duterte, saying he doubts that this year’s financial plan would be a “people’s budget.”
“We’ve done our jobs of course with some compromise along the way. We recognized the statements of Sen. Legarda, that is correct this is a joint effort. But the House of Representatives is beyond that now. We are not looking at just merely signing it; we are looking at how it will be implemented…” Andaya told the bicam.
“Will it really be a people’s budget, will it really be shared to all sectors nationwide? I doubt it. We eagerly await the veto message and then we would take it from there,” he added.
The approval of the budget had been delayed amid allegations of inserted pork barrel cloaked as amendments in the expenditure plan. Lacson earlier said each House member is bound to get P160 million from the budget, while his colleagues also made insertions, including the P23-billion infrastructure programs.
“Basically, yes, the P160 million per House member plus the billion-peso insertions made by a number of their colleagues, and the P23-billion Department of Public Works and Highways insertions by a number of senators plus other insertions in different agencies have all been retained,” Lacson said in an earlier Inquirer report. He snubbed Friday’s bicameral conference meeting. /kga