After months of delay, Congress finally ratifies 2019 budget
MANILA, Philippines — The 17th Congress ratified the P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget on Friday, just before it goes on recess for the 2019 midterm elections.
After the bicameral conference committee approved the budget, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted in favor of the budget. The Senate voted 15-5 while the House of Representatives approved the measure via viva voce voting.
READ: LOOK: Summary of budget increase per department
The ratified version of the budget contains the “pork” insertions made by lawmakers amounting to P75 billion — P70 billion for senators and P5 billion for House members.
This is aside from the P75 billion worth of projects allegedly inserted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) fund.
The measure will be forwarded to President Rodrigo Duterte, who can either approve or veto the bill. It is unclear whether the pork-laden budget will be approved by the President, after Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles noted earlier that Duterte and DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno would look into every page of the document.
“We will go through and each of the item and certainly the President has the power to exercise his line-item veto as he has previously done in previous budgets,” Nograles said in a Palace briefing on Friday.
Previously, Senator Panfilo Lacson — who has expressed his disapproval of pork barrel funds multiple times — has asked Duterte to remove the pork in the budget by using his line-item veto power.
And even if it were enacted into law, the budget is expected to be scrutinized after the Supreme Court declared the practice of inserting pork funds as unconstitutional.
The SC handed down the decision after it was exposed that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was being used to fund non-existing or bogus companies and non-government organizations such as the pork barrel scam of Janet Lim Napoles.
Ending the deadlock
If Duterte signs the proposed budget, this will end months of deadlock and bickering among members of Congress and the country’s economic managers.
In August 2018, Lacson revealed that there are “hundreds of billions” in the proposed budget which may be used to fund pet projects of government officials.
“If you think pork has left, no it hasn’t left. It runs to hundreds of billions of pesos,” Lacson said.
Then House committee on appropriations Camarines Sur 1st District Rep. Rolando Andaya and Diokno engaged in a word war, after the latter claimed that Diokno’s in-laws were favored contractors who allegedly received P550 million worth of infrastructure projects from the government.
The lawmaker also accused DBM of making last-minute adjustments to the National Expenditure Program, adding P75 billion worth of projects to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) funds.
Diokno shot down both allegations while Malacañang has repeatedly expressed confidence in the budget secretary’s ability. /ee
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