No budget has yet been approved for 2019, despite it being over a month into the new year. The government has been operating on a partially reenacted budget, which has been a point of crisis for many agencies, particularly those that need additional funding to properly implement their flagship projects. Among these are the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) which implements the administration’s Build, Build, Build Program.
The Senate and the House of Representatives’s committee panels met on Thursday for a bicameral conference to iron out the differences between their respective versions of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019.
Both panels, during their third bicameral committee meeting on Wednesday night failed to find common ground for their versions. The 2019 budget deliberations have been the subject of several accusations, particularly of having insertions for politician’s pork barrel.
Both houses of Congress will resume plenary sessions on Monday following the weekend break. Their next session is on Wednesday, which will be their last before the lawmakers go on a long three-month election recess starting February 7.
They will not be meeting on February 5, Tuesday, as this is a regular holiday set aside for the nation to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Given these restraints and the urgency of the budget’s approval, Senator Loren Legarda expressed being amenable to President Duterte calling a special session of Congress to reach a settlement between both panels. Legarda is chairperson of the Senate Fiance Committee and head of the Senate bicameral panel.
Two items in the 2019 budget are of particular concern to Legarda – the budget for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the budget for implementing wage hikes such as the 4th tranche of the Salary Standardization Law (SSL )III for civil servants and the salary adjustment of the Military and Uniformed Personnel.
“We would like to assure the voting public and our government personnel that the DBM will source the necessary funds for the mid-term elections and salary adjustments,” Legarda said on Thursday.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) gave its assurances to Congress that funding is available for both the coming May midterm elections and the salary adjustment promised government workers.
According to Legarda, the DBM assured her that funding required for the May elections is assured, even if the General Appropriations Act of 2019 is delayed in its approval. This will reportedly be sourced from both the P10-billion unutilized fund of Comelec and the Contingency Fund.
Funding for the 4th trance of the SSL3 will be sourced from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF), granting government workers with added wages despite the 2019 budget’s delay.