By Ellson Quismorio
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Davao City 1st Rep. Karlo Nograles on Tuesday expressed concerns over the proposed cash-based national budget for 2019 worth P3.757 trillion, saying it will slash the appropriations of several agencies.
Nograles noted during the first day of House budget deliberations that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) were among those with reduced budgets next year.
These budget reductions will hurt the delivery of projects by these agencies, Nograles said.
“Ang hirap naman ipaliwanag sa mga kababayan natin na nag-reduce tayo ng mga classrooms, nag-reduce tayo ng mga barangay health units, nag-reduce tayo ng roads dahil mayroon tayong ginagawang ganitong cash-based,” he told Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Ben Diokno during the hearing.
(It will be hard to explain to our countrymen that we’ve reduced the building of classrooms, barangay health units, and roads because we’re doing this cash-based [budget].)
The Davao lawmaker said that for 2019, the DPWH budget will “take a hit” of P95 billion; DepEd, P77 billion; DOH, P35 billion; and DSWD, P5 billion.
The DBM, along with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Finance (DOF), and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) comprise the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC), which presented the P3.757-trillion budget to the Appropriations Committee.
Nograles pointed out immediately during interpelation that the 2019 budget is P10 billion lower compared to the existing P3.767-trillion 2018 budget, which as opposed to the proposed budget is obligation-based.
“Let’s address the elephant in the room. You are coming to ask a budget that’s P10 billion lower in absolute terms. All of us here are concerned with the reductions in various departments and agencies namely the DOH, DepEd, and DPWH,” Nograles said, referring to his congressmen-colleagues.
He stressed that the budget submitted to them by the DBCC is all that they have available to work with since the Constitution prevents the House from adding to the amount.
“Bottom line: We passed the TRAIN law, we promised so many things to our [countrymen]. We come back to them and we say, hold muna tayo sa (let’s hold back on) [school] buildings, hold muna tayo sa barangay health centers, hold muna tayo sa infrastructure projects. How do we explain that to them?” Nograles asked the DBCC.
The House leader said he even expected a bigger budget proposal from then so-called economic managers.
“All of these concerns could have been addressed if DBCC came to us with a bigger budget. I personally was expecting a budget of at least P3.9 trillion,” Nograles bared.
The proposed 2019 national budget is cash-based as opposed to traditional, multi-year obligations-based budgeting. According to the DBM, it is the more efficient budgeting method since it would ensure the quick implementation of projects as well as the prompt payment of contractors.
Diokno argued to the panel that the proposed 2019 budget and the existing 2018 budget can’t be compared as “apples to apples” since one is cash-based while one is obligations-based. Thus, the P10 billion reduction is “misleading,” he said.
Diokno also confirmed not consulting with Nograles or any House member for that matter in the crafting of the 2019 budget.
But Nograles maintained that, for its perceived faults, obligation-based budgeting is still the preferred method if cash-based would mean decimating the funds intended for developing the countryside.
“Yung kabagalan doon sa pagsisimula at pag-iimplement at sa pagkukumpleto ng proyekto, doon nagkakaroon ng aberya [sa obligation-based]. At dahil nagkakaroon ng aberya, kaya ang ginawa po ng DBCC, ng DBM, mag-cash based po tayo.
(The problem with obligation-based is the slowness in the launch, implementation, and completion of projects. It is because of these delays that the DBCC, the DBM chose cash-based.)
“That was the whole concept of the Budget Reform Bill (BRB) [that was passed by the House]. But nowhere in our agreement, with the BRB [and this cash-based budget], did we ever talk about slash, slash, slash,” he said.
Nograles said the bottom line is finding a way to deliver on the promises made by the Duterte administration to the public.