By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives ended on Wednesday night the debates on the proposed P3.757 trillion national budget, unanimously passing the measure on second reading after two weeks of extended plenary deliberations.
Budgetary controversies that included the so-called P51.79 billion “parked pork barrel”, the assailed cash-based budgeting and the deferment of budget deliberations for the P1.41 billion allocation for the Presidential Communications Operations Office, were raised and resolved throughout the budget process that started July 23.
The approval is first under the leadership of former president and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who took over the reins of the Lower House in July.
The proposed budget is higher by P439.4 billion or 13.2 percent than the current national allocation of P3.38 trillion.
In his turno-en-contra speech, Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez aired strong misgivings over the the disappointing absorptive capacity of various agencies that are unable to spend the allocations granted by government, thereby, slowing down the country’s progress.
“Why do we need to raise more money and burden our taxpayers when government agencies and departments are unable to make full use of the monies given them?” he asked.
Suarez also lamented that the armed services and protection agencies, referring to the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Government, received P250 billion and p232 billion each, there remains strong doubts over the continued killings under the Duterte government’s war on drugs.
Nevertheless, Suarez lauded Arroyo for her “admirable work ethic”, pointing out that she spent long hours with House members to ensure the passage on time of the proposed General Appropriations Act.
As usual, both the House majority and minority groups agreed to create a small committee that will accept, study and recommend amendments to the proposed budget.
The proposed budget retained priority expenditures for education, infrastructure, and interior government departments.
The education sector education will get the biggest slice of P659.3 billion, about P72.2 billion more than what it received this year.
Successful infrastructure projects implemented by Secretary Mark Villar inspired the Department of Budget and Management to allocate P555.7 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways.
T he amount marks a 68.29 percent or P225.5 billion increase from the current year, thus, giving a strong financial backing to the Duterte government’s “build, build, build program”.
Peace and order also ranked high in the Duterte government’s priorities as the Lower House approved a P225.6 billion allocation for the Department of Interior and Local Government. The 2019 budget is P53.3 billion higher than the P172.3 billion appropriation in 2018.
Originally, the Duterte government called for a cash-based budgetary program apparently due to the failure of many departments to spend.
This program was rejected by the Lower House that won a mixture of cash based and obligation based budgeting.
Among the state agencies, the PCOO experienced the most difficult budget defense as lawmakers demanded the presence of Asst. Secretary Mocha Uson during the floor deliberation.
After two deferments and Uson’s resignation, the PCOO expenditure proposal breezed through the plenary stage.
In an unprecedented move, the Lower House asserted the power of the purse when it convened into a Committee of the Whole for the purpose of scrapping a P51.792 billion pork barrel allocation.
With Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro (Capiz) managing the floor, the budget found in favored congressional districts was re-aligned to health, education and infrastructure programs that are vital but received low allocation.