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House begins plenary debate on 2019 budget

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PHILSTAR

THE HOUSE of Representatives started plenary discussions on the 2019 budget Wednesday, with debate centered on the new cash-based budgeting system, which sets a use-it-or-lose-it procurement deadline of one year before funding authority expires.

The proposed 2019 budget, filed as House Bill No. 8169, is P3.767 trillion, slightly lower than the P3.767-trillion obligation-based budget for 2018.

If the 2018 budget is reckoned using the cash-based system, it will be worth P3.324 trillion, which means the 2019 proposed budget is higher if compared like-for-like.

The old obligation-based system allows for two years’ funding validity. The switch to a cash-based system was thought to accelerate spending and forcing the prioritization of projects that can be completed in the soonest possible time. The government is relying on spending to prop up economic growth, though it has faced resistance in the House due to perceptions that it amounts to a reduction in funding.

The House of Representatives has also argued that government agencies may not be able to adjust to the new scheme due to a public spending ban next year ahead of the midterm elections.

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It also raised a protest after budget cuts in key agencies such as the Health and Agriculture departments, and suspended committee deliberations for over a week.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) defended the budget cuts, saying that the agencies concerned had failed to use their funding even under the old two-year deadline.

The House and the DBM later compromised on a payment period for contracted services over a 15-month period, along with a three-month Extended Payment Period after the fiscal year.

Representative Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda of the 2nd District of Albay sponsored and defended the 2019 budget during interpellation.

He said that the cash-based system, practiced by advanced economies, will speed up the delivery of public projects and services, and is more transparent.

According to the DBM, P1.377 trillion and P1.068 trillion are allotted for social and economic services, respectively.

“Social services are meant to benefit the poor and vulnerable with increased access to basic education, health care, social protection, and other social services. These programs include free tuition in state and local universities and colleges, unconditional and conditional cash transfers, social mitigating measures and the National Health Insurance Program, among others,” the DBM said in a statement yesterday.

“In addition, economic services are meant to boost economic productivity with higher investment in public infrastructure, agriculture and agrarian reform, environmental protection, and industry. These include a variety of infrastructure projects, agricultural productivity programs, livelihood-generating activities and many more,” it added.

General public services, which cover the government’s general administration expenses on items like public order and safety, foreign affairs, and fiscal management, amounts to P709.4 billion.

National defense has a P188.2 billion allocation while debt servicing is budgeted for P414.1 billion.

Majority Leader Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. has said that the House can pass the budget on third and final reading by October.

The plenary debate on the budget was originally scheduled for Monday, but was delayed to sort out differences in the committee report.

The Committee of the Whole moved to realign P51.792 billion from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways to other government offices.

Mr. Andaya also said that the amendments in the budget will be itemized transparently.

“There will be no post-enactment identification which is prohibited. Items need to be spelled out. However, there are augmentations that will be hard to itemize, like the budget for retained health workers, as it will be impossible to create what is basically a payroll. Every line in the General Appropriations Bill will comply with laws and judicial decisions on public expenditures,” he said.

“What is important is that we are opening the budget deliberations to improvements,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senators on Wednesday said they will move to block what they allege is pork barrel from the realigned P51 billion in DPWH funds once the budget proposal is transmitted to the Senate.

“If there is no basis (for the realignment) it needs to be slashed or realigned for other items… We will all look at the budget together to evaluate the viability and rationale for the new projects to be funded by the P51.792 billion,” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson told reporters.

“We will raise question on the floor until we are fully satisfied… I think the whole Senate is unanimous on this. We will cross party lines in order to make sure that the budget is transparent and is consistent with the priorities as laid out in the economic plans,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon told reporters.

“Nothing is written in stone as far as the Senate is concerned. Whatever the House adds or subtracts, we will study,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters on Tuesday. — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan

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