Senate  now has its turn  on  the budget

Published September 28, 2019, 12:14 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON SEP 28, 2019Determined to have Congress approve the 2020 national budget  early enough so it can be used on the very first day of January next year,  Malacanang  sent its budget proposal to Congress very early this year —  in August.

The House  of Representatives immediately referred it to its Committee on Appropriations.  After two weeks of plenary  debates,  the House  last  September 20 voted 257-6 to approve the P4.1-trilion  2020 Appropriation Bill.

It will now go to the Senate and the senators will have a great deal of time to examine the proposed provisions  of  the bill approved  by the House.  They will see if, despite all the precautions,  some  “pork barrel”   projects of some congressmen have indeed managed to slip through.

Sen. Panfilo  Lacson,  who  has exposed many “pork barrel”  attempts over the years, has  once again  claimed that the budget approved by the House contains  P100 million for each legislative district. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House only has an additional P1.6 billion for the appointment of 22  deputy speakers, for research, office facilities, new committees, and additional personnel.

If, as   Senator Lacson claims, the budget contains so many millions for each  congressman’s  district,  the Senate  may well  resort to  its maneuver  last year. Senate President Vicente Sotto III, we may recall, just sent the bill  with  all its disputed provisions to President  Duterte with a note about the Senate’s reservations.    And the President simply  vetoed the disputed sums – some P75 billion in alleged pork barrel for congressmen. With this prospect, we do not expect last year’s late-budget fiasco to be repeated  this year.

As the Senate examines  the Malacanang-sponsored  budget as approved by  the House, we urge our senators to focus on key programs  that  urgently  need  funding,  particularly  the long delayed increases in the salaries of teachers and  other government workers. The  chamber  should  concentrate on helping ensure that  it will  meet the most urgent  needs of the nation in this coming year 2020.

Finance  Secretary  Carlos Dominguez III  said the nation’s economic growth slowed down to only 5.5 percent in the first half of 2019 because of the late enactment of the 2019 budget bill. But  with  the  catch-up spending program, he added, the full-year goal of 6 percent is still possible by the end of 2019.

The country must be able to achieve growth of 6 percent or higher for 2020,  the secretary  said, and early approval of the 2020 budget, with its  25  Duterte  priority bills, will help the government achieve this growth target.