DBM to wait for a 'friendlier' Congress to pass cash-based budget

MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Monday, August 13, said they will wait for a "friendlier" Congress to pass the measure that would reform the Philippine budget system.

In a chance interview, Diokno said "it boggles him" that lawmakers withdrew their support for a cash-based budgeting system.

"I don't know why they don't want it. It boggles my mind. A few months ago, it's the best law, according to Karlo [Nograles] and the House. After the leadership in the House changed, it's now a bad [measure]," Diokno said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"But [not passing the bill] is not a problem, we will just wait for a friendlier Congress. Remember there's an election in 2019? That's near," Diokno added.

Should the Congress reject the 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP), Diokno said agencies would have to reenact the 2018 national budget.

Deemed corruption-prone, a reenacted budget means that government expenditures for 2019 will be funded by the same amount and within the same allocations as those provided in the 2018 approved budget.

But Diokno said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) will not allow funds to be misspent in the event of the worst case scenario.

"If a certain project has been completed, they cannot use the funds allocated for that. Under a different administration, they can do that. But we will not allow that," Diokno said.

'Best practice': Under a cash-based system, agencies have to spend their funds and accomplish their projects within the fiscal year. Diokno said it would reduce underspending among agencies.

But the supposed "best practice" in budgeting systems had earned the ire of lawmakers at the House, arguing that it would lead to "huge cuts." Both the House and the Senate had postponed budget deliberations.

Supposedly the first cash-based budget of the government, the 2019 NEP amounts to P3.757 trillion, representing 19.3% of the projected gross domestic product (GDP) for 2019.

This amount is slightly lower compared to the P3.767-trillion 2018 budget. 

Diokno has since advocated for the passage of House Bill No. 7302 or the Budget Reform Bill, which institutionalizes the cash-based budgeting system.

In March, HB 7032 was approved on third and final reading, but a movement within the House wants it recalled.

The counterpart measure in the Senate is still pending. – with reports from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.