Congress fights over the 2019 national budget

ONE VOICE

THE NATIONAL BUDGET WHICH IS known as the GAA or the General Appropriations Act has been the source of good and bad for the country.

It is the basis for the salaries and operating expenses of government and capital expenditures for the socio-economic development of the populace. On the other hand, it has also been a major source of corruption for legislators and their assorted private sector collaborators.

It has been a symbol of national shame as the Asian Development and the University of the Philippines pointed out in the past that 20% of the national budget is wasted in corruption.

If today you use that percentage of 20% on the recent House approved Budget of P 3.757 Trillion- then, some P751-B is frittered away into the deep dirty pockets of the assorted crooks in our midst. Imagine the loss of benefits accorded to the communities at large?

In the past. Some P 200M for each senator and P 120M for each Representative every year were allotted as “pork barrel”. Not content- some “senatongs” and “representathieves”, as they are called in utter disdain, worked their dirty hands into ghost projects using nefarious foundations using the likes of Napoles and her rapacious ilk.

The Supreme Court had later condemned the “pork barrel” as unconstitutional. Still, the “magicians of theft” managed to hide their loot through “lump sum” which are huge amounts appropriated but without specific users, thereafter.

For example, a P 50-B can be budgeted for “building irrigation dams” in the country without specific locations. Then, the sly legislators, the corrupted agencies and their private sector collaborators like the suppliers and contractors claim their pie within the fiscal year.

Now the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) Ben Diokno is experimenting with the “Cash budget” where projects were to be identified, funded and finished within the fiscal year. This would allow better planning, early purchase of supplies and the swift finishing of the projects. (Except, of course, for the multi-year funded projects).

The jackals hit by this reformist move now attempt to dislodge Diokno from his DBM post via a vicious campaign effort. Is this because Diokno’s “cash budget” will reportedly cut the budget for some sectors which the congressmen resent since 2019 is an election year? (Laughter).

Currently, why is the Senate and the Lower House trading sword attacks over the P3.7 Trillion GAA? First, the House has delayed the submission of their approved budget due to internal squabbles.

New speaker GMA “discovered” P 50-B in funds “parked” (translate: pork barrel) in the DPWH which she scuttled by aligning them instead of slashing them. Fist blows almost erupted in the Lower House-it dramatically exposed how deep the hunger for pork is in that house is.

We do not know if this is part of the P51-B “discovered” pork related to expenditures in the DOtr (Transportation) and the DepEd (Education) – as reported in another news item.

With the House delay of the submission of their Approved budget, the Senate says, likely, the country will have a re-enacted budget (at least) for the month January 2019. However, only Salaries and Operating Expenses based on 2018 budget will be allowed to be spent in January 2019 from the re-enacted budget.

It is difficult with the Capital Expenditure-since no new projects can be initiated in January without the actual approval of the 2019 GAA. Then, the “election ban” follows- which further disallows projects to be started nearing the election period in “May”.

Some argued that the Capital Expenditure in the 2019 NEP (National Expenditure Program) can already be obligated. In a blistering rebuttal made last Monday in the Senate- we heard the senators liken the act as forcing the hand of the Senate to honor such obligation without the senators being able to scrutinize the details well.

Senator Ping Lacson says the Senate will use a fine comb to ferret out pork in the House version. Senators also said they cannot be faulted for a “re-enacted budget” because of the House’s late submission, due “to infighting as a result of attempts to do illegal insertions. Serves them right.”

Meantime, a “Supplemental Budget” may have to be proposed in order to service the “extraneous “ programs needing funding which was not existing at the time the budget assumptions for 2019 were firmed up. The two are (a) Bangsamoro Organic Law and (b) SC decision that the LGUs will henceforth only get their share not only from the BIR taxes but also from the government national taxes.

The Government is facing tough times. Inflation is raging and interest rates had to be raised four times already. It is also facing strong public sentiment against the implementation of the TRAIN II oil excise tax and to suspend its TRAIN I version.

It is tough because this shortfall in fiscal performance has led the Government to further increase borrowings- already pegged in 2019 at P1.189Trillion – of which P 624-B is to fund the national budget deficit. How much more can the Philippines borrow to fund its expansion without endangering the country’s sovereign risk investment and credit standing?

The funding balance for 2019 the Government is to get from P2.331T from BIR collections, P66-B from the Customs, and about P170B from government-owned corporations’ earnings.

Let us, therefore, not add any more to the difficulty of “balancing the budget” by allowing the Honorable Men and Women of the Senate and Lower House to -for some, to ensure getting their illicit share of the pie, the others for grandstanding opportunities at the session halls and the rest to confirm their own ignorance on budgeting- which other people only suspected until the former opened their mouths.

Pass the National Budget soon. If another 3-6 months are allowed for delays in the one-year implementation envisioned in the cash budget of 2019, let 2019 be just a transition year and 2020 be the beginning of the “real” Cash Budget era- no excuses here or there, Watson, after that.

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