Reenacted budget possible if Senate insists on amendments to 2018 budget, Speaker warns

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Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III. (file photo)

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez raised the specter of a reenacted budget if the Senate insists on amending the proposed P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018.

“Kami sa House, magha-hard stance kami. Kung ano ang napag-usapan namin at inaprubahan sa House ay iyon ang gusto naming mangyari. Ngayon, kung hindi masusunod iyon eh mag-reenact na lang tayo nu’ng budget na nakaraan (We in the House will take a hard stance. What we discussed and approved in the House is what we want to happen. Now, if that is not followed we might as well reenact the past budget),” he said in an interview over radio dzMM.

Sought for a reaction to the Speaker’s statement, Davao Representative Karlo Nograles, chair of the House appropriations committee, said: “The House panel will vote as one.”

However, he did not reply to follow-through queries.

A small committee from the Senate and the House of Representatives is currently deliberating on the final version that must be passed by Congress on or before December 13, the last day of session.

During the bicameral conference committee meeting Thursday, several contentious provisions cropped up between the House and the Senate versions, including the proposal of senators to cut the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways by P68.7 billion.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said P50.7 billion worth of DPWH projects had right of way issues, which would cause delays in implementation. Another P18 billion was a “lump sum” amount because the department could not present details, Lacson said.

Naiinis na ako rito, alam mo lahat naman pinag-isipan namin itong mabuti tapos pagdating doon (Senate), ang daming nagta-tantrum. Kung gusto nila tabla-tabla na lang (I am getting irritated, you know we have thought about this very carefully and then when it gets there, so many of them throw tantrums. If they want let’s call it quits),” Alvarez said.

Told that a reenacted budget would be favorable to the executive, Alvarez said: “Tama po iyon, kasi puwede nilang i-program kung ano ang gusto nila (That’s right, because they can program whatever they want).”

Under a reenacted budget, the government will operate on the basis of the previous year’s appropriation, in this case 2017’s P3.35-trillion.

The government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was president for nine years — the first three after succeeding her ousted predecessor, Joseph Estrada, the next six after winning the 2004 elections — operated on a reenacted budget for six years.

In an opinion column in 2014, Benjamin Diokno, now the Budget secretary, said under a reenacted budget would “the President would have a carte blanche authority to declare the capital outlays component of the (current) budget as savings and use the same for whatever programs and projects the President wants.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson, asked in a separate text message for his opinion, said: “Since October, we’ve been asking DPWH to dis-aggregate the right-of-way and civil works costs in their proposed infrastructure projects for FY 2018 in compliance with the law that says unless ROW issues/problems are resolved, no civil works shall commence.”

According to him, this was restated under Special Provision No. 10 in the 2017 GAA and repeated under Special Provision No. 12 in the 2018 General Appropriations bill now with the bicameral conference.

“Save for P11.38 billion where they submitted a list of settled ROW issues, they failed to justify the rest of the P62.1 billion leaving P50.7 billion from the P 62.68 billion. This is in addition to another P18.389 billion that they failed to dis-aggregate up to this date,” he said.

“That’s why I proposed to the Senate in plenary to cut the civil works component which the DPWH cannot implement anyway,” he added.

Lacon explained that “the Finance committee chair (Senator Loren Legarda) accepted and my colleagues approved. Senator (Cynthia) Villar was not around to object. Had she been around and objected, we could have debated on that issue which, in the first place, she was the one who brought up during the plenary deliberations manifesting exactly my position on this same ROW issue.”