It’s now 3 months without  2019 nat’l budget

Published March 15, 2019, 12:10 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON MAR 15, 2019We are now in the middle of the third  month of 2019. The government should have been operating under the 2019 P3.7-trillion national  budget from the beginning of the year in January,  but the General Appropriations  Bill for 2019 has not been  approved by Congress up to now.

 At the rate they are going, with disputing legislators firing charges and  blaming each other, they may not be able to approve the  2019 national  appropriations bill any time soon.  This may yet  be  in August, when the present groups of wrangling legislators will have been replaced by new ones  in an entirely new House of Representatives and a new Senate  half of whose members  are to be elected this May.

The national government has been able  to  keep running by using  the 2018 budget, which, under the Constitution , is  automatically reenacted in   case Congress can’t  approve  the new one  on time. But there are  so  many items in the new budget that  can  not  be carried  out. These   include many infrastructure projects  under  the  administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program. They also include the fourth tranche of the salary increases of government employees.

The present budget dispute revolves  around  funds for public works projects  in certain districts of the country.  Sen. Panfilo Lacson  charged that  P70 billion was “parked” in the budget of  the Department  of  Public  Works and  Highways (DPWH)  for future disbursement  for projects to be identified by concerned congressmen. The congressmen   retorted that the senators had their  own  hidden  ”pork barrel” funds  included in the DPWH budget.

A Bicameral Conference Committee met to settle the differences between the contending congressmen and  senators  and  finally approved  the  national budget bill. But Senator  Lacson  has now charged that the congressmen  continue to make  changes in the bill before its printing. Rep.  Rolando Andaya, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations,  said  they were simply itemizing the lump sums in the bill.

Whatever  the  reasons for the disagreement  between the congressmen and senators, the fact is the National Budget for 2019  remains  unapproved by Congress. It has been suggested that President Duterte  just veto the items he believes are “pork barrel” inserted by the legislators in  both  the House and  the Senate. But  there is nothing to veto, as the National  Appropriations Bill  remains in Congress and has  not been sent  to Malacanang.

Every day that the Congress fails to approve the national budget bill, some project is being  set aside, some  payments are not being made,  the Gross Domestic Product  (GDP) goes down  due to government   underspending.

 Despite the charges and insinuations, we continue to have great confidence in our officials. They should soon be able to able to complete the task, after compromises innate in democratic government,  to enact in the long-delayed 2019 National  Budget.