FOR a while, there were fears that the government may have to carry on next year with a reenacted national budget because of controversies in the House of Representatives led by the discovery of billions of pesos in infrastructure funds – alleged to be “pork barrel” of certain congressmen – “parked” as lump sums in the national budget bill.
The House of Representatives, however, succeeded in approving House Bill 8169, the 2019 General Appropriations Bill, on second reading on Wednesday last week, after 11 days of deliberations lasting past midnight, guided by the sure hand of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Approval on third and final reading is but a formality, after which the bill goes to the Senate for its concurrence.
As provided for by the Constitution, education has the most funding in the P3.757-trillion national budget – P659.3 billion. The Department of Education (DepEd) has P528.8 billion; State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), P65.2 billion; the Commission on Higher Education, (CHED), P50.5 billion; and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), P14.8 billion.
The next big allocation of P555.7 billion will go to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Most of this amount will go to the building of roads and bridges, elevated highways and railways, airports and seaports, schools and other public buildings. With other amounts from various other sources, a total of P909.7 billion will go to projects under “Build, Build, Build,” which may well be the principal legacy of the Duterte administration.
The other major amounts in the national budget for 2019 will go to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), P225 billion; Department of National Defense (DND), P183.4 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), P173.3 billion; Department of Health (DoH), P141.2 billion; Department of Transportation (DoTr), P141.4 billion; Department of Agriculture (DA), P76.1billion; and Judiciary, P37.3 billion.
The National Budget is the single most important piece of legislation that Congress must enact every year, before Congress adjourns for the annual Christmas recess so it can be signed by the President and be implemented by the first day of the year.
This year, the Duterte administration had been hoping that Congress would be able to convene as a Constituent Assembly and approve a new Constitution providing for a federal form of government. But it is now generally accepted that this Congress will not be able to do this for lack of sufficient time. This mission may well be left to the next Congress whose members will be elected in May 2019.
For this year, the enactment of the General Appropriation Law for 2019 may well be the final big accomplishment of Congress. After all the controversies in both the measures it discussed and in the leadership and organization of its two chambers, Congress now moves into its final phase, confident that it has done well by the people.