₱4.1-trillion budget for 2020 up for Duterte’s signature

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As predicted by Congress leaders, the panel — composed of representatives from the Senate and the House — approved Wednesday the final version of the budget “without a hitch.”

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 11) — The proposed ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval after both houses of Congress ratified Wednesday the final version of the fiscal plan.

The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the report of the bicameral conference committee, which met at the Manila Polo Club in Makati and approved the budget "without a hitch."

Duterte may approve the budget in its totality, completely reject it or strike down some provisions just like in 2019, when he vetoed ₱95-billion worth of items in the fiscal plan which he deemed “unconstitutional.”

"The early approval by the committee provides the President ample time to review the bill's provisions and ensure that it is aligned with the priority programs of the administration," House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement.

He added that Congress has made adjustments to the budget so it can be fully utilized for the government’s infrastructure and social welfare projects.

'Bad habits are hard to break'

Lawmakers originally targeted to approve the final budget by Monday, but decided to push its approval back by two days after senators requested for more time to review the measure.

Congress leaders earlier said that the Senate and House’s versions of the budget “are not very far from each other.”

The relative agreement between the two houses on the budget is a marked departure from last year, when the Senate and the House went head-to-head over allegations of anomalous insertions in the spending bill and the lower chamber’s move to tinker with the budget after it passed the bicam.

However, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson again accused congressmen of inserting “lump sums and vaguely described projects” into the spending plan.

Lacson said these “last-minute insertions,” which may be at least ₱16.345 billion or as much as ₱83.219 billion, include flood control projects worth ₱3.179 billion. Eight of these projects were uniformly budgeted at ₱60 million each, he added.

He also claimed that Albay (₱670 million), Cavite (₱580 million), Sorsogon (₱570 million), Batangas (₱502 million), Bulacan (₱440 million), Pangasinan (₱420 million) and Cebu (₱410 million) got the biggest funding for these supposedly vague projects.

“Bad habits are indeed hard to break,” Lacson said. “Pork is here to stay. I hope the President will again exercise his political will in vetoing line items that will obviously waste people’s tax money.”

Cayetano, however, assured that the budget is free of “pork” — lump sum allocations outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2013 — and of “parked funds” — appropriation earmarked for a congressional district, but are actually intended for use in another district.

Lawmakers bickering over allegations on the existence of pork and parked funds in the budget ultimately led to a four-month delay in its passage. Duterte got to sign the measure only in April this year, leaving new and continuing projects unfunded for the most part of the first semester.

Duterte's economic managers earlier warned that another reenacted budget could mean even slower growth, as seen with soft domestic activity from January-June.

READ: Pernia warns economy to slow further if 2020 budget is delayed too

READ: Lacson says 2020 budget ‘pork-free,’ but warns of possible last-minute insertions

The approval comes well ahead of the scheduled Congress break by December 20. To avoid a reenacted budget, Duterte must sign a new budget bill on or before December 31.

CNN Philippines’ Joyce Ilas, Xianne Arcangel, Melissa Luz Lopez and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.