THE PROPOSED national budget for next year has entered the legislative mill, with the House of Representatives lining up hearings leading to final approval at the chamber by Oct. 4.

Both chambers of Congress are moving to prevent a repeat of last year’s delayed enactment that now weighs on overall economic growth.

The Executive submitted on Tuesday to the House the proposed P4.1-trillion national expenditure program that is 12% more than the P3.662-trillion 2019 budget and 19.4% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Under the configuration before the budget was submitted to the House, the government was to target revenues of P3.573 trillion or 16.9% of GDP, and disbursements of P4.21 trillion or 19.9% of national output, yielding a P637.6-billion fiscal deficit equivalent to three percent of GDP.

“The 2020 National Budget… will aim to build on the fruits and gains of the previous annual expenditure programs of the administration, not only to ensure but [also] to consolidate the gains…” President Rodrigo R. Duterte said in his budget message.

A summary of budget priorities said: “The 2020 cash appropriations will prioritize the acceleration of infrastructure, anti-poverty and pro-employment spending.”

Infrastructure expenditures for 2020 are programmed at P972.5 billion, equivalent to 4.6% of gross domestic product (GDP), about 6.9% more than P909.7 billion this year that is equivalent to 4.7% of GDP. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will get P203.8 billion of infrastructure funds, consisting of P119.1 billion for its Network Development Program, P51.8 billion for its Asset Preservation Program and P32.9 billion for bridges. The Department of Transportation (DoTr) will get P107.554 billion, consisting of P106.7 billion for railways, P508 million for sea transport and P346 million for air transport infrastructure.

In its latest projections, the Department of Budget and Management put infrastructure spending at P1.55 trillion for 2021, equivalent to 6.6% of GDP, and P1.786 trillion or 6.9% of GDP in 2022, when Mr. Duterte ends his six-year term.

Under human capital development in the proposed 2020 national budget, health services will get P191.3 billion, social protection will get P174.3 billion and education will get P171.1 billion.

Under food security, irrigation development will get P36.3 billion and support for farmers and fisherfolk will get P18.4 billion, while the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund and farm-to-market roads each get P10 billion.

Finally, under peace and national security, P189 billion will go to the Department of National Defense, P184.9 billion to the Philippine National Police, P70.6 billion to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and P38.7 billion to the judiciary.

By sector, social services will get the biggest chunk of appropriations at 37.2% with P1.525 trillion.

Economic services will get P1.184 trillion, general public services will get P734.5 billion, debt servicing will get P451 billion, while P195.6 billion will go to defense.

Departments that will get the 10 biggest allocations are: the Department of Education (P673 billion), DPWH (P534.3 billion), Department of Interior and Local Government (P238 billion), Department of Social Welfare and Development (P195 billion), DND (P189 billion), Department of Health (P165.5 billion), DoTr (P147 billion), Department of Agriculture (P56.8 billion), the judiciary (P38.7 billion) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (P26.4 billion).

The House targets final approval of the proposed 2020 national budget by Oct. 4, before lawmakers of the 18th Congress take a month-long vacation.

Both chambers of Congress aim to have the new budget ready for signing into law by Dec. 15, before lawmakers take their Dec. 21-Jan. 19 Christmas-New Year break.

House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said in a press briefing on Tuesday that plenary sessions will begin two hours later at 5 p.m. starting next week to give more time for committee budget hearings.

“Instead of starting the sessions at 3 o’clock,we will be starting the sessions at 5 o’clock so that we can have four hearings a day,” Mr. Cayetano told reporters.

“So far, we have also scheduled hearings on Thursdays and Fridays,” he added, saying lawmakers will be working “day and night” in order to make sure the spending plan is approved on time.

Hearings on the 2020 national budget start on Thursday, Aug. 22, with briefings to be conducted by top officials of the Development Budget Coordination Committee, which consists of the Department of Budget and Management, National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Finance and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The government operated on a reenacted 2018 budget from January to April 15, when Mr. Duterte signed this year’s national budget into law but vetoed P95.3 billion in funds that were not in sync with state priorities, slashing the total to P3.662 trillion.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee in its March 13 meeting slashed GDP expansion targets for this year (to 6-7% from 7-8% originally) and 2020 (to 6.5-7.5% also from 7-8%), citing constraints from the delayed enactment of the national budget. — V. A. C. Ferreras