Congress passes P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020

Mara Cepeda
Congress passes P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020
But Senator Panfilo Lacson accuses the House of allegedly inserting P16.345 billion worth of projects in the 2020 budget

MANILA, Philippines – The 18th Congress approved the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 after 4 months of deliberations.

At around 2:55 pm on Wednesday, December 11, the House of Representatives first ratified the bicameral conference report on the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB). The Senate ratified the same report at around 4 pm.

The 2020 GAB will now be transmitted to Malacañang. President Rodrigo Duterte has until the end of the year to sign the GAB into law or to veto parts of the budget. Otherwise, the government would be forced to reenact this year’s budget.

The government was forced to reenact the 2018 budget in the 1st quarter of this year after Congress and the executive branch clashed on the proposed national budget for 2019 and delayed its passage for months. Duterte signed the 2019 budget into law only in April.

But it was not smooth sailing for the 2020 GAB in the 18th Congress.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has made it his crusade to call out pork barrel-like insertions in the national budget, accused the House of inserting 742 projects worth P16.345 billion in the bicam report minutes after the body signed it at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City.

The senator, however, did not attend the bicam meeting on Wednesday. Lacson was also not at the session hall when the Senate ratified the bicam report, though he earlier expressed he would cast a dissenting vote.

In the House, all 6 lawmakers from the progressive Makabayan bloc dissented with the ratification:

  • Arlene Brosas, Gabriela Women’s Party
  • France Castro, ACT Teachers
  • Eufemia Cullamat, Ferdinand Gaite, and Carlos Zarate, Bayan Muna
  • Sarah Elago, Kabataan

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, however, insisted the 2020 GAB is pork-free and transparent.

“We passed a budget with no pork, no parked funds, and no delays with full transparency. While there is no perfect budget, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have identified areas where funds have been underutilized for various reasons,” the House leaders said in a joint statement.

“Thus both houses made adjustments so it can now be fully utilized for programs such as the Build, Build, Build and social welfare programs in furthering the goal of improving the quality of life of Filipinos,” they added.

The 2020 budget is 11.8% higher than the P3.662-trillion budget for 2019 and represents 19.4% of the country’s projected gross domestic product in 2020.  

A big chunk of next year’s budget will fund infrastructure, social services like education and universal health care, and peace and national security.

Pork or no pork?

This was not the first time Lacson accused the House of making illegal insertions in the proposed 2020 national budget.  

Lacson had claimed “some congressmen” told him that every House deputy speaker is allegedly getting an additional P1.5-billion allocation under the 2020 budget.

The senator made the accusations after House leaders defended the P1.6-billion increase in the lower chamber’s proposed budget for its day-to-day operations.

Romualdez then urged Lacson to name his sources. Several lawmakers also demanded that Lacson apologize for supposedly damaging the House’s reputation, but the senator refused to heed their demand.

House committee on appropriations vice chairperson Joey Salceda also admitted that every legislator will be getting P100 million under the 2020 budget to fund their pet projects, though the Makabayan bloc did not receive such an amount. 

Both Cayetano and Salceda, however, both said the amount is not pork barrel, as every allocation is specified as a line item in the 2020 budget.

“Ngayon, mayroon namang iba, ang gustong discussion, pork, pork, pork. Eh kung wala namang pork, how can we discuss that? Kung mayroong pork, ituro nila, tatanggalin namin sa budget. Sa amin, gano’n lang kasimple,” said Cayetano on September 30.

(Now, there are those who only want to talk about pork, pork, pork. But since there’s no pork, how can we discuss that? If there’s pork, point it out to us and we’ll remove it from the budget. For us, it’s that simple.) – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.