PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has signed the P4.1-trillion 2020 budget, his government’s largest spending plan to date, with expenditure focused on social services and infrastructure.

On Monday, Mr. Duterte, legislators, and other government officials witnessed the ceremonial signing of the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) in Malacañang. The President said that the budget approval will help the government achieve its aggressive economic growth target of 7.5% by 2022. If realized, that level of growth would represent a significant acceleration from 2020 growth expectations. The Asian Development Bank expects 2020 gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 6.2%.

“Representing almost 20% of our projected GDP for 2020, this year’s P4.1-trillion budget will support our vision of a more peaceful and progressive Philippines — an upper-income bracket country that (will) cut the poverty rate to just 14% and achieve a 7.5% GDP growth by 2022,” he said in a speech.

The 2020 GAA was ratified by the Senate and House of Representatives on Dec. 12. This year’s spending plan exceeds 2019’s P3.662-trillion budget and is the largest budget to date.

The 2020 priorities are infrastructure development, human capital development, food security, and peace and national security, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Social services account for the largest part of the 2020 GAA with an allocation of P1.495 trillion or 36.5% of the total. The programs focus on human development, specifically education, health, and social protections.

Some P172.4 billion will go to Universal Health Care (UHC), significantly lower than the P271 billion recommended by the Department of Health (DoH) to successfully implement UHC on its first year. The amount includes P71.4 billion allocated for the National Health Insurance Program.

About P1.2 trillion will be used to fund economic services, representing 29.3% of the 2020 budget. Programs in this sector include the “Build, Build, Build” program via the 2020 budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) worth P581.7 billion and the Department of Transportation (DoTr) worth P100.6 billion.

Some P192.1 billion has been allocated to the Department of National Defense (DND) and P187.3 billion to the Philippine National Police (PNP), expanding their 2019 budgets of P136.5 billion and P173.24 billion respectively. About P70.6 billion will support the nascent Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The Judiciary will receive P41.2 billion.

Food security measures will receive a total of P81.5 billion.

The 2020 national budget is obligation-based, using a Cash Budgeting System (CBS) similar to the system used in 2019. CBS requires government agencies to spend their allocations and complete projects within the fiscal year it was given.

This system complicated the passage of the 2019 budget, which was signed only in April. The government thus operated on a reenacted budget for more than a quarter, depressing spending and growth in 2019. The President has since signed into law a measure allowing the extension of the 2019 budget’s validity until the end of 2020.

The Palace has not announced any veto action thus far. Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said last week that he is expecting no veto.

Mr. Duterte also advised his colleagues in the government to avoid corruption. “Let us ensure that every peso in the budget will never be used to support the selfish greed of the few, but spent exclusively for the benefit and service of Filipino taxpayers.” — Gillian M. Cortez