Finally, Congress passes P3.757-trillion budget for 2019

MANILA, Philippines – After months-long delay, the 17th Congress has passed the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019. 

The House of Representatives and the Senate separately ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) on Friday night, February 8, the last day of session before Congress adjourned ahead of the May elections. 

The House ratified the budget at 6:42 pm, while the Senate ratified it much later at 7:57 pm.

The House approved the budget through viva voce voting, or a vote of ayes and nays. But senators agreed to do a nominal voting, with 15 saying yes and 5 voting no to the 2019 GAA.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also delivered an hour-long speech slamming the alleged pork barrel insertions in the 2019 budget, while Minority Leader Franklin Drilon delivered a quick speech to say these insertions do not involve funds under his province of Iloilo. Drilon also thumbed down the bicam report.

The senators who voted no are Lacson, Drilon, Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, and Francis Pangilinan.

The bicam members signed their report on the budget after two weeks’ worth of meetings, where senators and district and party-list lawmakers battled over the alleged “pork-like” insertions in the 2019 budget.  

House committee on appropriations chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr admitted the 2019 budget supposedly contains P160 million allotted to each congressman to fund their pet projects. But he said this is just a "baseline" amount, as other lawmakers got higher allocations, depending on their districts' needs.

"Siyempre, sabi ko sa’yo, depende 'yan sa pangangailangan. May rason; 'di naman puwedeng ala chamba lang (Of course, like I told you, that depends on the need. There’s a reason, it’s not arbitrary). You have to take into consideration so many things – location, population," said Andaya.

He earlier said in an Inquirer report that 23 senators would get around P3 billion each for their pet projects, while the 292 House members would “equitably share” the remaining P5 billion.

Legislators, however, denied these allocations are a form of the now-unconstitutional pork barrel. They said these are not discretionary lump sum funds as the projects where the money will go to are itemized under the 2019 GAA.

Of all the government agencies, the Department of Public Works and Highways got the highest amount of additional funds approved by the bicam. Legislators agreed to give the DPWH P46.355 billion in additional funds for 2019.

Lawmakers gave the second highest additional funds to the Department of Health, which will get another P17.575 billion.

The government is currently operating on a reenacted budget from 2018 after Congress failed to pass the 2019 budget by December 31, 2018.

With Congress’ approval of the 2019 budget on Friday, the GAA may now be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte.

No more cash-based budgeting

Lawmakers have decided to do away with the proposed cash-based budgeting system and will instead maintain the two-year obligation-based budgeting system for 2019. 

The obligation-based budgeting system disburses payments as obligations or commitments that may not necessarily be delivered within the same year.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno wanted a cash-based budgeting system applied this year for greater transparency in government transactions. This system limits contractual obligations and disbursing payments to goods delivered and services rendered within the fiscal year.  

But lawmakers disagreed with him on this system, saying it would supposedly lead to budget “cuts” for several agencies.  

The bicam also removed all allocations for dredging projects in 2019, as these are allegedly being used as “milking cows” by corrupt politicians.  Rappler.com 

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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