Duterte signs ₱4.1-T national budget for 2020

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President Rodrigo Duterte has signed the ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 six days into the new fiscal year.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 6) — President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 on Monday.

Duterte signed Republic Act 11465 or the General Appropriations Act, which authorizes the release of funds for new and continuing government projects and programs as approved by Congress. The six-day delay is much shorter compared to 2019, when the passage of the spending plan stalled for four months as lawmakers disagreed on supposed last-minute insertions in the budget.

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

The P4.1 trillion general appropriations is said to be the country’s largest budget to date, greater by 12% than the 2019 budget.

A bulk of the budget or P1.495 trillion is earmarked for the social services sector. The amount will fund programs like the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education, basic education facilities program, the Universal Health Care program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and the Unconditional Cash Transfer Program.

Meanwhile, P1.2 trillion is allocated for economic services. This will be used for infrastructure development to be spearheaded by the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Transportation.

Of the said amount, DPWH will use P203.8 billion for its network development, asset preservation, and bridge programs, while the DOTr will use P63.5 billion for the development of the country’s rail, air, and sea transportation infrastructure.

Moreover, some P70.6 billion will be allocated for the operational and developmental needs of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has proposed to spend a little over ₱1 trillion on infrastructure this year, with a focus on developing transportation, tourism, and agriculture. The same spending plan will also provide for the implementation of the Universal Health Care Act that will provide more health services to all Filipinos for free, the transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the creation of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.

The House of Representatives, however, realigned ₱9.52 billion in the budget bill to raise the funding for 12 state agencies.

The new fiscal plan also sets aside some ₱34 billion for fresh salary increases for government workers, ahead of the passage of the Salary Standardization Law 5 that provides for yearly pay hikes until 2023. Like the budget bill, Duterte certified this measure as urgent in order to fast-track its approval. The Senate also included ₱3.173 billion meant to raise the pay of nurses in public hospitals and health offices to implement a recent Supreme Court decision.

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson again called out the House of Representatives for allegedly inserting at least ₱16 billion in pork barrel funds, or those left under the discretion of lawmakers. House appropriations committee chair Isidro Ungab denied this, saying there are no pork or parked funds in the new budget.

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

In 2019, Duterte vetoed ₱95.3 billion from last year's ₱3.757 trillion spending plan discovered "not within the programmed priorities" of the Department of Public Works and Highways. This is bigger than the ₱75 billion questioned by senators during the bicameral committee meetings for the 2019 spending law.

Prior to signing the 2020 budget, the President gave one more year for agencies to spend their 2019 allocations for maintenance and other operating expenses as well as capital outlays to catch up with planned spending.

DBM has authorized agencies to spend one-twelfth of their 2019 budgets so they can have funds prior to the 2020 budget taking effect.