Diokno: Failure to agree on 2018 budget will 'derail' gov't plans

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — Lawmakers have been warned against failing to pass the 2018 national budget, with a member of the economic team saying it would compromise the administration's major projects.

Should Congress miss the yearend deadline, the government would have to make do with a repeat of the 2017 budget, which would put it at a "major disadvantage," Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said in an interview on Friday.

The 2017 budget stands at just P3.35 trillion, 11% less than the proposed 2018 budget of P3.767 trillion. Worse, not all of it can be carried over to next year.

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"I've held the position that when Congress reenacts the budget, only current operating expenditures will be deemed reenacted," Diokno said.

This would include only the salaries for government personnel, maintenance and other operating expenses, as well as financial charges. Based on the breakdown of the 2017 budget, that would amount to just about P2.5 trillion.

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The government would lose out on a major component of the budget: capital outlays, which fund construction, equipment and investments. Capital outlays accounted for P793 billion in the 2017 budget but for next year, it was hiked to P1 trillion, in part to fund the government's infrastructure push.

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Diokno said, "There are some multi-year budget items and we have some options for foreign funding. But in all, a lot of infrastructure projects will be hit."

Another casualty in a reenacted budget would be free education in state colleges and universities, whose full implementation was supposed to start next year. According to Diokno, since the law was only signed in August, it has no budgetary allocation this year that can be carried over to 2018.

Fears over a possible budget standoff were sparked after the House of Representatives' controversial decision to allot only P1,000 for the Commission on Human Rights next year.

Various Senators have pledged to strike down the amendment in their deliberations and to block further moves when both chambers meet on the final budget bill.

The Budget Chief played down the issue, saying disagreement was normal in legislation. For now, he said he would keep his hands off.

"Let the political process find its course, and we'll intervene at the end," he explained. "Legislators are smart enough not to derail the overall program of the government."

Independent think tank IBON Foundation is likewise optimistic the Duterte administration would not let the 2018 budget fall by the wayside.

IBON Executive Director Sonny Africa said a reenacted budget would be a sign of weakness, painting the President as someone unable to control Congress.

More importantly, the Build Build Build infrastructure program is the fulcrum of the government's economic agenda. Without it, he said the economy would lose its "last leg," as foreign investments drop and unemployment creeps in.

President Rodrigo Duterte may want to spite the CHR, Africa said, but there are bigger things at stake in the 2018 budget.

"A reenacted budget would take away his P900 million for the anti-drug war. It will take away the additional P20 billion for the [police]. It'll take away the additional P78 billion for the [military]. And it will take away all the other hundreds of billions of pesos for infrastructure projects," he pointed out.