The government is determined to have the national budget for 2020 ready at the very start of the year. Last Monday, only two weeks after the start of the new Congress last July 22, President Duterte presided over a Cabinet meeting which approved the proposed national budget for next year. It will be submitted to the House of Representatives before August 21.
The House should now have all the time it needs to scrutinize the national budget in accordance with its mandate in the Constitution that all revenue bills “shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments” — Article VI, Section 24. The Senate will be holding concurrent hearings on the budget to speed up the process.
Malacanang announced that the proposed budget for 2020 is for P4.1 trillion, the biggest ever in the country’s history. It is 12 percent higher than the 2019 budget of P3.662 trillion.
The biggest slice of the budget is for education, in line with the constitutional provision that “the state shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education….” — Article XIV, Section 5 (5). In addition to the increase in the number of students in the country, necessitating the building of more schoolrooms and the hiring of more teachers, the government has now expanded free public education to include college courses in state universities and colleges. There is also need to raise the salaries of teachers, as promised by President Duterte.
The next biggest slices of the national budget are for public works and transportation, as the government pushes forward with its “Build, Build, Build” which has become the lead economic development program of the government, likely to be known as the hallmark of the Duterte administration.
The early preparation of the national budget is a move to avert last year’s disastrous late approval of the 2019 budget by three months. That budget should have been approved in December, 2018, ready for implementation on the first day of 2019, but disagreement between the House and the Senate over alleged “pork barrel” insertions delayed its approval only in April.
The delay meant so many public works projects could not be started along with several new spending programs. Pay increases could not be carried out. The entire national economic program was set back with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) going down to 5.6 percent growth in the first quarter of 2019, the lowest in four years.
The Executive Department is doing its part by submitting the budget to Congress early. Our congressmen and senators must hold up their end of the budget process by holding continuous hearings. But the key to truly speedy approval will be avoiding such actions as including lump sums for projects without details, last-minute changes in project amounts and sites, and unduly large appropriations for some legislative districts.
We have new congressmen and senators who may be more idealistic than their predecessors. They should be able to make their presence felt in this Congress.