By Camille A. Aguinaldo, December 11 2018; Business World


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THE SENATE does not expect to pass the proposed budget for 2019 in time for third reading approval before it adjourns this week, but one workaround the chamber is considering to avoid delaying major projects is to lift the ban on public works construction during election season this year only, Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said Tuesday.

“We only have until Thursday under the calendar. We will work on Thursday. We will do our best to finish the budget on Thursday, at least to end the interpellations. But it looks like it will end there. Unless the President calls for a special session, we won’t finish the budget on time,” he told reporters before the Senate session.

To address the concerns of the executive branch on the implications of a reenacted budget, Mr. Zubiri said the Senate will push for a special provision in the General Appropriations Bill or a joint resolution that will exempt “projects that have to be implemented under capital outlay” from the April-May election ban on public works.

The Senate earlier targeted to have the proposed budget approved on third reading on Tuesday, Dec. 11, approved on the bicameral conference committee level on Dec. 12, and ratified on Dec. 14 in order to avoid a reenacted budget in January.

The proposed 2019 budget or the general appropriations bill remains in the interpellation stage at the Senate as of Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Zubiri said the chamber will lose a day in discussing the proposed budget due to President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s calls to Congress to convene in a joint session on Wednesday, Dec. 12 to decide on the martial law extension in Mindanao.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno earlier warned that a reenacted budget next year would disrupt the implementation of new projects due to the delayed passage of the budget and the April-May ban on public works in the run-up to the midterm 2019 elections.

Economic managers also warned the Senate last Monday that gross domestic product (GDP) growth may decline by 1.1-2.3 percentage points if the reenacted budget applies for the entire 2019. They also cited possible job losses and the sectors that will be affected, such as construction, public administration, defense, wholesale and retail trade, land, transportation and education.

The Omnibus Election Code or Batas Pambansa Bilang 881 prohibits the government from releasing and disbursing public funds for public works 45 days before a regular election.

“We want to put a special provision in the budget that will amend the election code for 2019. In other words, in 2019, all the projects that have to be implemented under capital outlay will be exempted from the election ban,” Mr. Zubiri said.

“It’s either a special provision of the budget or we pass a joint resolution of Congress amending this particular year the omnibus election code which bans projects to be implemented during the elections,” he added.

He also said the chamber is also looking to pass the proposed 2019 budget on third and final reading when Congress resumes session on the third week of January. The chamber is also targeting to have the 2019 budget ratified on Jan. 16. — Camille A. Aguinaldo