Congress adjourns, fails to pass 2019 budget on time

MANILA, Philippines – The 17th Congress failed to pass the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019 on time, as it adjourned for 2018.

The House of Representatives adjourned session on Wednesday, December 12. The Senate adjourned a day later, Thursday, December 13, as it continued with budget deliberations.

Congress is set to resume sessions on January 14, 2019, a Monday.

"We adjourn session until 10 am of January 14, 2019. That is next year, Mr President. Merry, Merry Christmas to everyone and a Happy New Year," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Thursday.

With the non-passage of the budget, the government would have to operate under a reenacted allocation in early 2019. This means it will run based on the 2018 budget, which is P3.767 trillion.

It will be the first time in 8 years, or since 2010, that the government will operate under a reenacted budget.

The last years of now-House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president were also marked with national budgets that were not passed on time or by year-end.

Why the delay? The House of Representatives, following a leadership change that installed Arroyo, was behind schedule in approving the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the proposed budget.

The chamber approved it on 2nd reading on October 3, but passed the bill on 3rd and final reading only on November 20. Some senators blamed this delay on supposed pork barrel insertions of lawmakers – a claim strongly denied by members of the House.

Under the rules, the budget must first be approved by the House before it is sent to the Senate.

The Senate received the GAB on November 26. Senators had said they would continue scrutinizing the budget and not rush its passage.

What's next for the budget? Currently, the bill is in the period of interpellations. It still has to undergo the period of amendments before getting approved on 2nd reading and 3rd and final reading.

After which, Congress has to convene a bicameral conference committee to thresh out differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

With the impending election ban by February 2019, the senators are eyeing a special provision exempting some government projects from the rule.

"We want to put a special provision in the budget that will amend the Election Code for this coming 2019. All the projects that have to be implemented under capital outlay will be exempted from election ban," Zubiri earlier said.

The Omnibus Election Code prohibits the release and spending of public funds during election period. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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