We are now in the middle of the third month of 2019. The government should have been operating under the 2019 P3.7-trillion national budget from the beginning of the year in January, but the General Appropriations Bill for 2019 has not been approved by Congress up to now.
At the rate they are going, with disputing legislators firing charges and blaming each other, they may not be able to approve the 2019 national appropriations bill any time soon. This may yet be in August, when the present groups of wrangling legislators will have been replaced by new ones in an entirely new House of Representatives and a new Senate half of whose members are to be elected this May.
The national government has been able to keep running by using the 2018 budget, which, under the Constitution , is automatically reenacted in case Congress can’t approve the new one on time. But there are so many items in the new budget that can not be carried out. These include many infrastructure projects under the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program. They also include the fourth tranche of the salary increases of government employees.
The present budget dispute revolves around funds for public works projects in certain districts of the country. Sen. Panfilo Lacson charged that P70 billion was “parked” in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for future disbursement for projects to be identified by concerned congressmen. The congressmen retorted that the senators had their own hidden ”pork barrel” funds included in the DPWH budget.
A Bicameral Conference Committee met to settle the differences between the contending congressmen and senators and finally approved the national budget bill. But Senator Lacson has now charged that the congressmen continue to make changes in the bill before its printing. Rep. Rolando Andaya, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said they were simply itemizing the lump sums in the bill.
Whatever the reasons for the disagreement between the congressmen and senators, the fact is the National Budget for 2019 remains unapproved by Congress. It has been suggested that President Duterte just veto the items he believes are “pork barrel” inserted by the legislators in both the House and the Senate. But there is nothing to veto, as the National Appropriations Bill remains in Congress and has not been sent to Malacanang.
Every day that the Congress fails to approve the national budget bill, some project is being set aside, some payments are not being made, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) goes down due to government underspending.
Despite the charges and insinuations, we continue to have great confidence in our officials. They should soon be able to able to complete the task, after compromises innate in democratic government, to enact in the long-delayed 2019 National Budget.