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Congress ratifies 2019 budget; rejects cash-based budgeting system

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Congress plenary hall

CONGRESS on Friday finally ratified the proposed P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019.

THE House of Representatives and the Senate ratified the spending bill on the last session day before both chambers go on a break from Feb. 9-May 19. The House conducted a voice vote (viva voce), while at the Senate, 15 senators voted in favor of the ratification of the bicam report, while five voted against.

The 2019 budget bill will then be forwarded to Malacañang for President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s signature.

The bicameral panel, led by Senate Finance committee chair Loren B. Legarda and House Appropriations chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr., on Friday afternoon signed the report which reconciled the conflicting provisions of the 2019 budget.

“We are proud to have a budget today on the last day of session, which we call socially-inclusive, pro-poor and pro-people,” Ms. Legarda said during the bicameral meeting.

The bicameral conference committee also rejected the implementation of the cash-based budgeting system that was supposed to start this year.

Mr. Andaya said the Senate and House panels agreed to not adopt the cash-based budgeting system in the 2019 national budget and revert to the obligations-based system.

“I would like to confirm that we are in agreement that the cash-based budgeting system is already abandoned. That was our agreement two meetings ago. So I would like to reconfirm that there’s no objection from both sides,” Mr. Andaya told reporters.

The approval of the budget had been delayed over criticism of the shift to a cash-based appropriations scheme from a two-year obligation-based system, as well as alleged illegal “insertions” that favored certain districts and families.

Mr. Andaya said the House of Representatives expects Mr. Duterte to veto some of the provisions of the national budget.

“We eagerly await the veto message and we will take it from there,” he said, without elaborating.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, a member of the bicam panel, expressed his dissenting vote and did not sign the bicam report.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, who voted against the bicam report’s ratification, noted “the brazen display of political bullying by a House that refuses to budge and explain the allocation of unconscionable amounts to certain favored geographic units without going through the usual evidence-based planning and budgeting process.”

“Despite efforts to remove these anomalies, these remain in the budget. This budget confirms the democratic deficit in our process that still allowed the old system of patronage and the lack of transparency in the budgeting process,” she said in a statement.

The final version of the budget bill, according to Ms. Legarda, included the additional funding for the Department of Health’s (DoH) health facilities program, additional allowances for teachers, as well as new funding for landmark measures, such as the school-based feeding program, the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and the rice tariffication bill. — C.A.Aguinaldo