By Charmaine A. Tadalan

THE PROPOSED P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 is now a step away from enactment, having secured Bicameral Conference Committee approval and ratification by both chambers of Congress on Wednesday.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, Senate Finance Committee chairman, replied in the affirmative when asked if President Rodrigo R. Duterte could sign next year’s spending plan by Christmas. “I think so. ’Yun ang goal natin kasi, given ’yung nangyari sa 2019 budget — natagalan, naapektado po ’yung paglaki ng ating ekonomiya, maraming proyekto sa mga probinsya ang hindi natuloy… iniiwasan natin ’yun (That is our goal because, given what happened to the 2019 budget — its delayed enactment affected overall economic growth and many projects in the provinces did not proceed… we are trying to avoid that),” Mr. Angara said in a briefing, Wednesday.

The budget was later ratified by both House of Representatives and the Senate during Wednesday’s session.

Mr. Angara said the proposed national budget will most likely be sent to Mr. Duterte in seven days.

The Bicameral Conference Committee started reconciling both versions of the 2020 spending plan on Nov. 29.

The House approved House Bill No. 4228, or the General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020, on Sept. 20, while the Senate passed its version on Nov. 27.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, one of the nine vice-chairmen of the Finance Committee, skipped the signing of the committee report after finding “last-minute” insertions — allegedly totaling about P16.345 billion — by members of the House.

Mr. Lacson cited as examples lump-sum appropriations and “vaguely described” projects in Albay (P670 million), Cavite (P580 million), Sorsogon (P570 million), Batangas (P502 million), Bulacan (P440 million), Pangasinan (P420 million) and Cebu (P410 million).

“Also, 117 flood control projects worth P3.179 B(illion) dominate the insertions, with eight projects uniformly budgeted at P60 M(illion) each,” Mr. Lacson said.

Enactment of the 2019 spending plan was delayed due to an impasse between the House and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and later on as the Senate questioned “post ratification” realignments made by the House.

That prompted Mr. Duterte to veto some P95.3-billion appropriations, when he signed the 2019 budget on April 15. This reduced the 2019 spending plan to P3.662 trillion.

That delay plus a ban on new public works 45 days ahead of the May 13 midterm elections — which left planned new infrastructure projects unfunded last semester — made overall economic growth slow to 5.8% in the first three quarters from 6.2% a year ago and against a 6-7% government target for 2019.

To prevent this delay from recurring, the DBM on Nov. 29 released its national budget call, directing government agencies to begin drafting their proposed spending plan. The Development Budget Coordination Committee on Wednesday announced the 2021 budget is pegged at P4.640 trillion.