By Ellson Quismorio
The House of Representatives has approved on second reading a resolution seeking to extend the availability of the P3.6-trillion national budget for 2019 up to December 31, 2020.
Approved via simple voice vote during Wednesday afternoon’s plenary session was House Joint Resolution (HJR) no.19. Standing at the rostrum at that time was Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel, who carried the louder “aye” vote against the “nay” vote.
Earlier that morning, the House Appropriations Committee approved in principle a then-unnumbered substitute resolution that would consolidate House Joint Resolutions (HJR) no.9 and 10.
“The substitute resolution actually combines the two resolutions,” committee chairman, Davao City 3rd district Rep. Isidro Ungab said during the panel hearing. HJRs no.9 and 10 were authored by Deputy Speaker, Antique lone district Rep. Loren Legarda; and San Juan City lone district Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, respectively.
Under the measures, the availability of the 2019 appropriations for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlays (CO) will be extended to December 31, 2020, amending for the purpose Section 65 of the general provisions of Republic Act (RA) 11260 or the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2019.
Appropriations panel vice chairman, Quirino 1st district Rep. Junie Cua made the motion to approve the budget extension through a substitute resolution, “subject to style,” in the hearing.
“I feel this is a pragmatic approach and a recognition of the reality that confronts us today,” said Cua, who is also the chairman of the Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries.
“Because of the late approval of the 2019 GAA as well as the advent of the [2019 midterm] elections, our effort to spend has been stifled substantially,” Cua said.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM), represented by Undersecretary Janet Abuel during the hearing, bared to the solons that the unobligated release allotment from the 2019 GAA as of June 30 stood at P1.161 trillion, or a third of the entire year’s budget.
Out of this unobligated portion of the budget, P324.75 billion is for MOOE while P339.53 billion is for capital outlay. Moreover, P495.89 billion is for personal services while P1.28 billion is for financial expenses.
“I can just imagine how much more is unobligated at this time…I think these are realities that we must recognize and I think this is a merit of [HJR no.] 9 and 10,” reckoned the Quirino lawmaker.
It can be recalled that Congress failed to pass the 2019 national budget on time, partly because of the DBM’s switch to a cash-based system from the old obligation-based system.
Under a cash-based budget, government projects and programs must be completed and paid out within the fiscal year. This innate restrictiveness, coupled with the election ban, caused problems for departments regarding the delivery of projects.
Ways and Means panel chairman, Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Salceda justified the extension of the availability of the 2019 budget in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“A one-year extension is needed so the government need not go into costly crash programs just to meet the December 2019 deadline for implementation. Otherwise, these vital funds will revert to the national coffers,” said Salceda, also a vice-chair of the Appropriations panel.
Although the deliberations on it began in 2018, the 2019 national budget was only passed in April, forcing the government to run on a reenacted budget for the first quarter of the year.