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Editorial

Budget deadlock casualties

/ 05:09 AM March 18, 2019

When politicians quarrel, ordinary citizens usually end up as the main casualties. Take the ongoing row on the 2019 budget between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

With the impasse unresolved even after congressional leaders met with President Duterte, the administration’s economic team has decided to lower economic growth projections for this year and next. Economic expansion is now expected to slide to its lowest in eight years.

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The President’s economic advisers last week cut the growth target for 2019 to 6-7 percent from 7-8 percent, on expectation that the government will operate on a reenacted 2018 budget as a result of a congressional deadlock over P95 billion in alleged “pork” in the P3.8-trillion national spending bill for 2019. For 2020, the GDP growth range was also revised lower to 6.5-7.5 percent.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier claimed that Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo funneled P95 billion in public works and education funds to projects arbitrarily identified by her allies in the House — after Congress’ bicameral committee had already approved the budget bill.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III has refused to sign the final version of the budget, saying the changes made were unconstitutional.

President Duterte has also threatened not to sign the budget if the realignments are deemed illegal.

As the Palace meeting broke up without prospects of a resolution, Malacañang was reduced to urging lawmakers to break the deadlock and submit the new budget for Mr. Duterte’s signature.

“We call on the senators and representatives to break the stalemate and deliver to the Filipino people an appropriations law that can aid this government better their lives and help our country move forward,” said presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

A reenacted budget even for the first quarter means the government will have P46 billion less to spend in the first 90 days of 2019.

“That’s half a billion pesos a day that we are not spending to create jobs, to improve infrastructure, for better healthcare and better education,” lamented Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

The government also failed to implement new infrastructure projects at the start of the year, he said — a wasted opportunity since the first quarter is the best period to do construction given the dry weather.

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Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia added that the reenacted budget was delaying not only ongoing and new infrastructure projects, but also the delivery of social services such as the unconditional cash transfer and Pantawid Pasada programs for indigent households and public utility vehicle drivers, respectively, the sectors most affected by the higher excise taxes slapped under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act.

“The government would not be able to quickly execute programs and projects. This means that we will miss the opportunity to create as much as 180,000-240,000 more jobs, and fail to lift as much as 400,000-550,000 more Filipinos out of poverty this year,” he said.

Already, there are reports about unpaid teachers, initially from the Central Visayas and Caraga regions and later from Central Luzon and the Davao region, because of the absence of a new budget.

The longer the budget deadlock lasts, the bigger the adverse effects will be on the Philippine economy and on ordinary citizens.

It will compound the negative factors affecting the country’s growth outlook this year, with the effects on agriculture of a mild dry spell caused by El Niño, and the US-China trade war, also expected to slow economic growth.

If only politicians have in mind the welfare of the people to whom they owe their positions, instead of holding hostage the budget in their grasping, brazen fight for more pork.

But it’s election year, and legislators are going for broke to corner as much of the national funds as possible to ensure their political survival, damn the consequences to the nation’s economic health.

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TAGS: 2019 national budget, budget insertions, Inquirer editorial, pork insertions
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