By Bernadette D. Nicolas, January 31 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business World

THE Executive branch will likely ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt at least P500 billion worth of big-ticket projects from the election spending ban to avoid delays in the government’s massive infrastructure program.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said economic managers will submit a memorandum detailing their proposal to President Duterte in time for the Cabinet meeting next week.

“We are ready to submit a memo to the President and he, in turn, will ask the Comelec to exempt at least the 75 big-ticket projects so that there will be little disruption in our ‘Build, Build, Build’ [BBB] program,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“Our budget for infra is close to P1 trillion, and it is very important that we have them started during the dry months, so we can say that maybe at least half of the trillion will get started this first quarter,” he added.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief clarified that economic managers are not seeking a “blanket” exemption, as they have already identified specific projects that should not be covered by the ban.

Of the 75 big-ticket infrastructure projects, Diokno noted that half are already on stream, including some of the major projects being undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

He said this is not the first time that the Executive branch has requested for an exemption from the
public works ban.

“We’re confident that our request will be granted, as this is for national welfare and development so I think Comelec will be broad-minded enough. For example, if it is a national project it will not affect elections,” Diokno said.

Due to Congress’s failure to approve the 2019 national budget before the end of 2018, the government is currently operating under a reenacted budget, at least for the first quarter of the year.

In a separate briefing at the Palace, BBB Committee Chairman Anna Mae Lamentillo and Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito G. Lambino II backed the plan of the Executive branch to seek Comelec exemption on certain infrastructure projects.

“[The exemption will help] especially for big-ticket projects [as] we want to observe the proper timeline,” Lamentillo said.

Lambino noted that at least 0.25 percentage points will be slashed from the country’s GDP growth rate for the first quarter due to the reenacted budget.

Comelec Spokesman James B. Jimenez said during the BusinessMirror Coffee Club Forum on Tuesday that the poll body is likely to get the poll body’s nod, except if the request is for a blanket exemption.

The National Economic and Development Authority pitched the idea of exemption on Monday as economic managers discussed ways of reducing the impact on first-quarter growth of the limited government spending—by as much as P46 billion, per finance department estimates—resulting from the delayed passage of the 2019 national budget.