DBM denies Bangsamoro plebiscite funds ‘missing’

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Budget and Management denied Tuesday, January 15, allegations by House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr that the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite has no funds.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the plebiscite has "adequate funding" from different sources in the budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and that it would "push through as planned."

According to Diokno, P111.8 million has been allocated in the 2018 budget for the plebiscite, while P95.8 million is proposed in the 2019 budget.

Diokno added that the Commission on Elections has "prior years' continuining appropriations from 2015 to 2018 that can be tapped to cover the plebiscite's funding requirement." It amounted to P409.5 million as of September 2018.

The statement comes after Andaya called on lawmakers to investigate why the budget for the plebiscite for BOL was allegedly not included in the proposed budget.

In September 2018, Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas requested for P857-million funding in the 2019 budget for the plebiscite scheduled on January 21 and February 6. DBM then said that the body could just tap its savings.

Currently, the Philippine government operates on a reenacted budget, as lawmakers failed to pass the new budget on time. That means government operations in the first quarter of 2019 is funded by the same amount as in the 2018 budget. (READ: What to expect as gov't operates on a reenacted budget)

Comelec can tap other funds: The budget chief said that Comelec, as a "constitutional commission that has fiscal autonomy," can also utilize unobligated allotments amounting to P10.4 billion for preparatory activities in the national and local elections lodged in its built-in appropriations.

"Now, to appease concerns that there is not enough money for the Bangsamoro plebiscite, the Comelec may also request for more funding through the Contingent Fund, subject to approval of the Office of the President, in case the above cited sources are fully utilized," Diokno said.

The Contingent Fund in the 2018 budget and the proposed 2019 budget both amount to P13 billion.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a more powerful Muslim region – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (READ: After Bangsamoro law, a bright yet bumpy path to peace Rappler.com

Aika Rey

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