Angara: Enough time to pass bill extending 2019 budget validity

MANILA, Philippines –  As far as the chairman of the Senate finance committee is concerned, there's no reason to worry over the fate of the bill extending the validity of the 2019 budget, as Congress has more than enough time to pass the measure.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said in a statement on Wednesday, November 13, that the Senate will "find a way" to accommodate the measure amid marathon deliberations on the proposed 2020 budget.

"There's a lot of time. I don't think there's a reason to worry because we have about 7 to 8 weeks before the end of the year. Mai-papasa natin 'yan (We will be able to pass that) whether it's a bill or a resolution," Angara said.

The measure seeks to amend the 2019 General Appropriations Act to change the validity of the 2019 budget  from December 31, 2019 to until December 31, 2020.

What happened? It has been a practice at Congress to pass joint resolutions extending the validity of the national budget.

The Supreme Court ruled in October that a "mere resolution, cannot amend or repeal a prior law," prompting lawmakers to change the form of the measure from a mere joint resolution to a bill. Angara and House lawmakers had filed the Senate and House versions of the bill, respectively, on November 6.

"Nagulat kami dito kasi nagpasa na ang House ng resolution, and I was ready to sponsor the (Senate) resolution but hindi na naituloy because ayaw natin matechnical tayo on the basis of that decision," Angara said.

(We were surprised because the House has already passed the resolution, and I was ready to sponsor the Senate resolution, but it didn't push through because we don't want to have technical problems on the basis of that decision.)

The House had already approved House Joint Resolution No. 19 on 3rd and final reading on November 4. But as bills were already filed on November 6, the proposal went back to the plenary to be approved as House Bill No. 5437 on second reading.

At the Senate, Angara was supposed to present to the plenary the committee-approved Senate Joint Resolution No. 9 on November 6. But because of the legal hurdle, he filed instead Senate Bill No. 1153 as a counterpart measure.

Once the House passes HB 5437 on final reading, it will be transmitted to the Senate for the chamber to begin plenary deliberations.

Why extend the validity? Because of the delayed passage of the appropriations bill, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 91 on cash-based budgeting, which stated that funds for capital outlay, as well as maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), must be valid for obligations or by December 31, 2019.

A cash-based budgeting system limits contractual obligations and disbursement of payments for goods delivered and services rendered within the fiscal year.

This means implementing agencies need to complete their contracts by the end of 2019, regardless of possible delays. Projects that are "not implementation-ready" will be removed from the proposed budget.

Under the system, the actual completion of projects and payment for MOOE must be done not later than June 30, 2020, and end of 2020 for capital outlay.

But Congress deemed the General Provisions limited, as it explicitly stated that all appropriations will only be valid by the end of 2019, unless already obligated.

SEC. 65. Availability of Appropriations. All appropriations authorized in this Act shall be available for release and obligation for the purpose specified, and under the same special provisions applicable thereto, until December 31, 2019.

Lawmakers want to extend the life of the funds for MOOE and capital outlay, to allow obligations or commitments using this year's budget beyond the end of 2019.

Angara argued that about P261 billion worth of funds under the P3.6-trillion 2019 budget might revert to the National Treasury if unspent, because of the cash-based budgeting system.

If Congress passes the measure and gets the signature of the President, this means that two budgets will be valid next year – 2019 and 2020 – which would run contrary to the intention of fiscal reform under the cash-based budgeting system this year. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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