House approves on 2nd reading proposed P3.757 trillion 2019 budget

 

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives approved on 2nd reading the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 8169 at 8:45 pm on Wednesday, October 3, through viva voce voting or a vote of ayes and nays. (READ: How government plans to fund proposed P3.757T 2019 budget)

The only amendment approved on Wednesday, however, was the realignment of P51.792 billion from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which was originally allocated for infrastructure projects across 15 regions. The money will instead go to other projects of the DPWH and other state agencies. 

This fund is yet to be itemized by the House. The reallocations will likely be tackled by the small committee the House formed during the session on Wednesday. 

The panel is tasked to finalize the individual amendments to the 2019 GAA, including commitments made by legislators to increase the budgets of certain departments and offices – like the judiciary and the Commission on Human Rights – during the 7-day debates. 

The members of the small committee are as follows:

The small committee’s deadline to finalize the amendments will be next Tuesday, October 9. The 17th Congress is set to adjourn session starting next Saturday, October 13, with the last session day falling on Wednesday, October 10.

The House held marathon deliberations at the plenary for 7 days, with several sessions lasting from 10 am until the wee hours of the following morning.  

The longest session was conducted starting 10 am on Monday, October 1, until 6 am on Tuesday, October 2. Government agencies tackled during this session include the following:

Budget deadlocks, ‘misplaced’ funds, PCOO debates delay 

It has been a long road so far for the 2019 GAA at the House before the proposed budget was approved on 2nd reading.

Members of the House initially rejected the cash-based budgeting system, saying it leads to across-the-board budget cuts that would limit government programs. Budget hearings at the House and the Senate were temporarily suspended.

But President Rodrigo Duterte’s intervention led to the executive and legislative branches to agree on 6-month extension to allow agencies to make their payments given the implementation of a cash-based budget system for 2019. Higher budgets for key sectors, like education and healthwill be restored.

Andaya said supplemental budgets may also be passed so the government can fund the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law as well as the recent Supreme Court decision that a "just share" of local government units shall be sourced from all national taxes, not just from national internal revenue. 

Another deadlock happened after Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Andaya discovered more than P50 billion of allegedly “misplaced” funds in 2019 budget. 

Sources said the money was intended for a “parking” funds scheme, when a lump sum of money, often without a specific purpose identified, is listed under the budget of a particular congressional district. However, the congressman of that district is informed by a fellow lawmaker that this particular allocation was merely listed or "parked" in that allocation, but will be used for a different project or district.

Ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and House committee on appropriations chairperson Karlo Nograles all denied making such an insertion. Nograles and Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte even got into a shouting match with Andaya over the said funds.

This was why the House leadership decided to form a committee of the whole that took jurisdiction over the 2019 GAA and moved to realign a total of P51.792 billion in DPWH funds.

Plenary deliberations on the proposed P1.41 billion budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office was also deferred twice due to the absence of now-resigned assistant secretary Mocha Uson.  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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