Budget row may derail PH growth

Published March 13, 2019, 12:55 AM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Chino Leyco, Vanne Elaine Terrazola, and Ben Rosario

The Philippines will likely fall way below its economic growth target this year fol­lowing delayed approval of the Duterte administration’s budget appropriations for 2019, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said Wednesday.

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III gestures after elected as a newly Senate President at Senate Building in Pasay city, May 21,2018.(Czar Dancel)
Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) may grow by only 4.2 percent to 5.9 percent this year, the slowest since 2011, if a re-enacted budget is implemented by the national government.

Based on the calculations made by NEDA, the country’s GDP will grow by 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent this year if the GAA is enacted by April, while 4.9 percent to 5.1 percent should the national budget be passed before Au­gust this year.

The economic output growth esti­mate is below the Duterte administra­tion’s target range of 7.0 percent to 8.0 percent for 2019.

Pernia also said a re-enacted bud­get will create a delay in both new and ongoing infrastructure projects, as well as the implementation of public social services such as the Uncondi­tional Cash Transfer and Pantawid Pasada Programs.

“The government would not be able to quickly execute programs and projects. This means that we will miss the opportunity to create as much as 180,000 to 240,000 more jobs, and fail to lift as much as 400,000 to 550,000 more Filipinos out of poverty this year,” Pernia said.

The Philippine economy recorded a full-year GDP growth rate of 6.2 per­cent in 2018, lower than government’s revised target of 6.5 to 6.9 percent.

This is also lower than the 6.7 percent and 6.9 percent recorded in 2017 and 2016, respectively, largely due to the spikes in inflation rates in 2018.

“Even with this, the economy has been steadily growing by at least 6.0 percent for seven consecutive years. Also, in the first ten quarters of the administration, the economy has been growing at an average of 6.5 percent.

We need to sustain this momentum, or even accelerate it, now with infla­tion rate down and within our target range,” Pernia said.

“Thus we call for the immediate passage of the 2019 budget. The longer we wait, the more adverse the effect will be,” he added.

Stalemate continues

On Tuesday, President Duterte met with Congress leaders to resolve the impasse between the Senate and House of Representatives over the P3.757-trillion proposed 2019 budget.

But no consensus was reached be­tween the two chambers of Congress as both are standing firm on their respec­tive positions on the spending bill.

On Wednesday, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said enact­ment of the proposed 2019 budget is now in the hands of the House of Representatives.

Duterte, according to Sotto, sided with Senator Panfilo Lacson’s proposi­tion for the House to withdraw their enrolled copy of the General Appro­priations Bill (GAB) and stick to its ratified version.

“Nasa kanila ngayon kung ‘yong pinag-usapan kagabi ay kanilang susundin (It depends on them if they will comply with what we agreed upon last night),” Sotto said.

“We just have to wait and see what they will do if they will really… ba­bawiin nila (withdraw it), at papadala sila sa amin ng bagong (and send us a new) enrolled bill.”

But the House of Representatives said that with the failure of Senate leaders to point out to President Du­terte the unconstitutionality of the congressmen’s action on the ratified bicameral conference report on the 2019 General Appropriations Act, the Lower Chamber will maintain the itemization of lump sum allocations.

House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro disclosed that what was re­jected by the Lower House is Lacson’s suggestion to complete the budget proposal by retaining the lump sum appropriations in the bicameral report and allow President Duterte to item­ize the projects that may be covered by the lump sum appropriations.

Castro also agreed with Cama­rines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, that what Lacson was suggesting is glaringly unconsti­tutional.

Despite the disagreements on how to proceed with the enrolment of the budget measure for approval by Duterte, leaders of Senate and the Lower House agreed to heed the Chief Executive’s appeal to avoid a re-enacted budget.

In a press conference Wednesday, Castro, together with Senior Deputy Majority Leader and SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, said the two contingents – headed by Sotto and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – agreed to complete the process by appointing Andaya and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Loren Legarda, to meet and reach an agreement on the budget measure.

“[We will] still itemize because it is not unconstitutional and it’s not il­legal,” Castro told reporters.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Legisla­tive Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) confirmed finding post-ratification realignments by the House in the copy of the GAB it sent to the Senate last Monday, Sotto said.

He said this was discussed dur­ing the meeting with the President, who acted as a mediator between the two Congress chambers, along with other members of the Executive de­partment.

“Oo, maliwanag dito sa nakikita ng LBRMO. Maliwanag na nagalaw at ang tinamaan nga, ay yung mga vi-net ng mga Cabinet secretaries ito, pagkatapos ililipat [ang pondo] sa districts. Yun ang mabigat, after ratification (Yes, it was clear in the findings of the LBRMO. It was clear that there were realignments and the project affected were those vet­ted by Cabinet secretaries because the funds were transferred to the districts. What’s worse is these were done after ratification),” Sotto said, citing among others, the funds for the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

He said it was “even larger” than the P79 billion of supposed House realignments the LBRMO earlier found.

Lacson said House leaders re­aligned allocations totaling P95 billion to reward those who voted for Arroyo to be House speaker, even after its ratification last February 8.

The House, he added, did not deny that its itemizations were done post-bicam.

As for the Senate, the LBRMO did not find post-bicam itemizations as al­leged by Andaya. Lacson said the Sen­ate already submitted their itemized amendments before the congressional bicameral meeting on the budget. Legarda recalled and reiterated this during their meeting, he said.

“So there’s deception when Rep. Andaya said we submitted our items February 11, when the bicam has ended. They merely asked for a copy [of our amendments] and they were given [February 11]. You see, that why they won’t give the media a copy. It will prove that he was wrong,” Lacson said in a chance interview at Senate Wednesday.

But Marcoleta said he jotted down some notes during the meeting and gathered that the Senate realigned the following items of the national budget: P2.5 billion for the national greening program of the Depart­ment of Environment and Natural Resources; P3 billion for TESDA scholarship; P11 billion for right-of-way acquisition; and P2.5 billion in foreign-assisted projects.

Castro and Marcoleta said whether or not the Senate will make particular on these expenditure items is not the Lower House’s concern.
“We will only do what is necessary, correct, and legal on the budgetary allocations that are assigned to us,” said Castro.