By Ben Rosario
The proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 was unanimously passed on second reading Monday night by the House of Representatives, ending two weeks of extended plenary deliberations.
What prolonged the deliberations were the 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 which were raised and resolved throughout the budget process that started July 23.
Congressmen spent 11 days of plenary deliberations for House Bill 8169 or the Fiscal Year 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) but two of the legislative days were without sessions.
With the second reading passage of House Bill 8169, former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was expected to make good her vow that there will be no re-enactment of budget next year.
The first two days of plenary debates were consumed in executive sessions among House leaders who debated on how best to resolve the P51.79 billion infrastructure funds that were discovered stashed in favored congressional districts.
Congressmen have to battle physical and mental fatigue as they were made to make up for the two-stalemate by debating on the budget up to the wee hours of the morning in many instances.
In a viva voce vote at around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, the Lower House approved the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for next year but may still introduce amendments if recommended by a “small committee” created for the purpose.
The approval is the first under the leadership of 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 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.
Majority Floor Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said the creation of a small committee to receive and resolve amendments to HB 8169 had parliamentary precedence.
Named to the small committee were Compostela Reps. Maria Carmen Zamora, senior vice chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations; and Reps Federico Sandoval II (NP, Navotas) and Corazon Nuñez-Malanyaon (PDP-Laban, Davao Oriental) for the Committee on Rules.
The minority bloc will be represented by Reps. Anthony Bravo (Coop-NATTCO); EdcelLagman (LP, Albay), and Suarez.
The House leadership gave lawmakers until October 9 to submit their amendments.
P659.3 B for education
Education remains on top of government’s budgetary priorities. The total proposed funding for Department of Education (DepEd), state universities and colleges (SUCs), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) of P659.3 billion marks a 12.3 percent or P72.2 billion increase over their 2018 budget of P587.1 billion.
Of the proposed appropriations of P659.3 billion for the education sector, P528.8 billion will be allocated to DepEd; P65.2 billion will go to SUCs; P50.5 billion to CHED; and P14.8 billion to TESDA.
P555.7 B for DPWH
The DPWH will receive the second highest allocation with P555.7 billion, which represents an increase of 25.8 percent or P113.9 billion compared to its P441.8 billion budget in 2018.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will receive the third largest appropriation in 2019 with P225.6 billion. This is 30.9 percent or P53.2 billion than its 2018 funding of P172.4 billion.
The other top recipients shall be the Department of National Defense (DND), P183.4 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), P173.3 billion; Department of Health (DOH), P141.2 billion, which includes P67.4 billion for the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC); Department of Transportation (DOTr), P141.4 billion; Department of Agriculture (DA), P76.1 billion; the Judiciary with P37.3 billion; and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), P32.3 billion.
The infrastructure program for 2019, which shall receive an appropriation of P909.7 billion, will fuel the administration’s massive Build, Build,Build Program.
In his budget message to Congress, President Duterte said the country is now moving toward half-time in the period that has been given to him and his administration, to enable the Filipino people to experience the life that they aspire for, the life that they deserve.