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‘Brewing disagreement’ between House, DBM as funding for select infra halted

Mara Cepeda
‘Brewing disagreement’ between House, DBM as funding for select infra halted
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano says if this is the case, then Congress should not have passed the Bayanihan law

MANILA, Philippines – Another clash is brewing between the House of Representatives and the Department of Budget and Management after the DBM moved to temporarily stop funding for some infrastructure projects due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Facing reporters in his bailiwick Taguig on Friday, April 24, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said he disagreed with DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado’s belt-tightening circular calling on government agencies not part of the COVID-19 response to cut down on spending not related to the outbreak.

Cayetano argued that the 18th Congress passed Republic Act No. 114469  or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act precisely to allow President Rodrigo Duterte to augment the budget for programs using savings from existing appropriations in the P4.1-trillion budget for 2020.

“So I disagree po with Secretary Avisado that hindi puwedeng kanselin o kunan ‘yung mga may general relief na. Eh kung ganoon ‘yung attitude, bakit pa kami nagpasa ng Bayanihan [to] Heal as One?” he said.

(So I disagree with Secretary Avisado in that he cannot cancel or get funds from projects that are part of the general relief already. If that’s his attitude, then why did we have to pass the Bayanihan to Heal as One?) 

“So by repeating the statement ulit  – and binabantayan namin ‘yung mga circular – there’s a brewing disagreement between us and tingin namin, tama ang Kongreso na kapag ganitong national emergency at nandiyan ‘yong batas [dapat ina-apply ito],” added the Speaker.  

(So by repeating that statement – and we are watching over the circulars – there’s a brewing disagreement between us and we think Congress is in the right that when there’s a national emergency and a law exists, then it should be applied.)

Under DBM’s National Budget Circular No. 580, the agency will no longer release 35% of the appropriations in the 2020 national budget. Among the affected items are startup construction and repairs of government buildings. 

Avisado issued his belt-tightening order ahead of Duterte’s speech aired on Friday morning, where he mentioned the outbreak’s severe effect on government coffers. 

Cayetano, however, argued that budget allocations for infrastructure projects should not be touched even while the country was trying to stem COVID-19 cases, which stood at  7,192 as of Friday.

“Parating sinasabi ng economic team hindi dapat magalaw ‘yong infra unless useless ‘yung project or hindi kayang i-implement ‘yung project. [That’s] because infra drives economic activity, lalo po sa mga sulok-sulok ng ating bansa. And in fact infra [is] also [a means to] fight insurgency,” Cayetano said.  

(The economic team always says the infrastructure budget should not be touched unless the project is useless or the project can’t be implemented. That’s because infrastructure drives economic activity, especially in far-flung areas. In fact, infrastructure is also a means to fight the insurgency.)

Another budget clash

This is just the latest conflict between the House and DBM over the national budget. In March, DBM decided to withhold the release of P80 billion worth of funds realigned by lawmakers under the 2020 budget pending a review of the allocations. 

Ousted House committee on appropriations chair Isidro Ungab reportedly informed the President and the DBM chief about the alleged multibillion-peso illegal insertions in the 2020 budget, prompting Avisado to review the concerned budget items. 

Ungab was later booted out of the House leadership because Cayetano said he was “more interested [in sowing] intrigues.” 

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguz III had given his assurance that the country would have enough cash, though most of it would be through borrowings, including the $1.5 billion-loan from the Asian Development Bank.

Duterte had also previously declared P397 billion worth savings from the 2020 budget, of which some P352 billion has already been released to agencies. – 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.