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Senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, presides over the briefing by the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) on the 2018 National Expenditure Program (NEP). (SENATE PHOTO)

Senate sees budget okay by early December

The Senate will tackle the proposed P3.767 budget for this week after receiving last September 27 from the House of Representatives House Bill 6215 or the 2018 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

Senate committee on finance chairman Sen. Loren Legarda said she expects the Senate to approve the budget upon resumption of session in November, to be followed by the convening of the bicameral conference committee for the Senate and the House to reconcile the differences in their respective budget versions.

Legarda said she is ready to sponsor the 2018 budget after the subcommittee reports are submitted this week.

“Upon submission of the subcommittee reports of my vice chairpersons, we will file and sponsor the committee report next week and we will conduct marathon sessions so we can finish the budget interpellations of all agencies before session adjourns on October 12 for a one-month break,” Legarda said.

“We aim to submit the 2018 GAB to the President on the second week of December and, hopefully, enacted way ahead before Christmas. This way, agencies would have time to plan the execution of approved projects and programs before the holidays. Hopefully, this would help in the early disbursement of funds and a more efficient obligation,” Legarda said.

The House version of the budget bill was approved on third reading by the House with an overwhelming vote of 223 affirmative against nine negative.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno welcomed the House approval of the budge and added that he is looking “forward to the passage of the budget earlier than expected”.

The budget, dubbed by the DBM as “A Budget that Reforms and Transforms” will allocate around P1 trillion for the ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program and P40 billion for Free Quality Tertiary Education, among other programs.

The proposed budget for next year will be 12.4 percent higher than last year’s budget and amounts to 21.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

It will support the government’s objectives of achieving robust and inclusive growth of seven to eight percent next year.

The education sector continues to have the biggest allocation for the budget next year at P710.5 billion, or P583.1 billion going to the Department of Education; P61.6 billion going to State Universities and Colleges (SUCs); P49.9 billion for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED); and, P6.9 billion for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) received the next biggest budget at P639.8 billion to reflect the infrastructure priority of the Duterte administration.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) got P172.3 billion, followed by Department of Health (DoH) with P164.5 billion; Department of National Defense (DND) with P145 billion; Department of Social Welfare Development with P137.1 billion; Department of Transportation with P67.9 billion; Department of Agriculture with P54.2 billion; the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao with P33.5 billion and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with P27.9 billion.

Budget reforms set

Last September 25, the Senate technical working group (TWG) on the Budget Reform Bill convened for the first time to discuss pertinent issues regarding the budget reform proposal.

The draft legislation (SB 1450) intends to institutionalize reforms in the budgetary process to secure efficient and accountable utilization of public resources.

The meeting was attended by representatives from oversight agencies (e.g. DBM, COA, and BTr), implementing agencies (e.g. DSWD, DPWH, DOH), as well as civil society organizations in their efforts to sharpen the provisions of the bill.

Among the pertinent features of the reform bill is the shift from a multi-year obligation budget to an annual cash-based budget. The common budgetary practice in the Philippines is to allow appropriations and obligations until the next fiscal year, extending the validity of funds to two years. This has led to slow budget utilization on the part of line agencies.

The Budget Reform Bill then mandates an annual cash-based budget to promote the disciplined execution of the budget, Diokno said.

On top of limiting the lifespan of appropriations, it will also enforce a cash-based rather than an obligation-based budget.

Obligations are intentions, not expenditures. Hence, a cash-based budget will more accurately reflect the annual development plan of the government, he said.

Beyond efficiency measures, the Budget Reform Bill will also ensure that future national budgets will be fully compliant with the laws governing public finance, especially the landmark Supreme Court decisions on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

At the Senate, the Budget Reform Bill was filed by Committee on Finance Chairperson, Sen. Loren Legarda, on May 11. A committee hearing was conducted under the same committee on August 7, 2017 prior to the TWG meeting yesterday.

A counterpart measure has also been filed at the House of Representatives by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Karlo Alexei Nograles last May 9. RIZA LOZADA

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