By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Delaying the approval of the 2019 national budget for a month won’t hurt much for government workers who are expecting a wage increase this year, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Thursday.
Sotto allayed fears over the impact of the delayed passage of the P3.757-trillion national budget this year as he assured the Upper Chamber will approve and ratify the priority measure by January 27.
The Executive Branch earlier called on Congress to approve the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) as soon as possible, warning about its impact on government programs, particularly, on the scheduled increase in the wages of state workers under the Salary Standardization Law.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno insisted that implementing the salary raise without the budget approval will have no legal basis and would be unconstitutional.
“Anyway, one month lang naman ‘yong delay (the delay will only be for one month) because we are assuring them, as far as the Senate is concerned, that hopefully, when we resume, we’ll be able to pass it on third and final reading,” Sotto told reporters in the regular “Kapihan sa Senado” news forum in Senate on Thursday.
The wage increase, Sotto assured will be retroactive once the 2019 budget is signed into law.
“So ‘yong delay na one month hindi na masyadong makakasakit (a one-month delay would not hurt much),” he said.
Don’t blame GAB delay
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the budget stalemate should not be a reason to put on hold the scheduled salary increase for government workers and called on Diokno to implement the fourth tranche of the wage increase for state workers under the Salary Standardization Law and not blame the delayed approval of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Lacson said DBM can use the P99.446-billion Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MBPF) under the 2018 budget.
Opposition Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV agrees with Lacson.
“Mr. DBM Secretary, implement the salary increase now. It is not unconstitutional. It has basis in law and there is PhP99.446 billion under the MPBF in the 2018 budget,” Lacson said in a post on his Twitter account.
“Pointing to a re-enacted budget won’t fly,” he added.
The MPBF allows the government to address the personnel requirements of public institutions.
Of the P99.4-billion MBPF in the 2018 budget, Lacson noted that P62.8 billion was allotted for Compensation Adjustment, while P12.36 billion is for Staffing Modification Upgrading of Salaries.
“Obviously, there is legal basis as there are funds to implement the salary hike, especially for the first quarter of 2019,” he said.
Earlier, Diokno reasoned it may be unconstitutional to implement a new round of salary increases for government workers before the approval of the proposed 2019 budget, saying it is “without legal basis.”
The government is presently operating on the reenacted budget for 2018 after Congress failed to pass GAB last month due to the controversy over reported “pork” insertions in the House of Representatives.
Senators will continue deliberations on the GAB when they resume session on Monday (January 14.) (With a report from Mario B. Casayuran)