When reforms stop

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“Suspicions remain, however, on the underlying purpose of the reallocations primarily on an election year.

All of a sudden, uncertainty has been introduced in the process of approving the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for next year with both chambers of Congress not willing to make an assurance of its quick passage.

What gives? is the question that needed asking since the past two years that President Rody Duterte was in power, the budget bill’s approval was always smooth.

A tug of war had erupted between the Executive and the Legislative on the budget implementation primarily the anti-lump sum measures introduced through the cash-based scheme under the Palace proposal.

The Senate is behind the Malacañang initiative and said that it will review all insertions in the budget, thus indicating that the budget bill will not breeze through the chamber.

It was the House Committee of the Whole which approved the 2019 budget on second reading last week with the proposed reallocations.

Over the weekend, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could not commit enacting the General Appropriations Act for 2019 prior to the Congress recess.

The conflict centers around some P55 billion realigned from the 2019 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways and would instead be used to restore allotments for education and health services.

Suspicions remain, however, on the underlying purpose of the reallocations primarily on an election year.

The House Appropriations Committee reinstated the budget cuts of state universities and colleges, as well as projects of agencies like the Department of Education and the Department of Health (DoH) in the realignment.

The purpose of the House sounded noble but a deeper look into the real issue indicated that most of the intended projects that received restoration of funds were mostly classified inefficient or highly questionable in the use of public money.

It turns out the realignments and insertions are what is holding up the approval of the budget bill.

The Executive, however, has compelling reasons for the funds reductions.

The Basic Educational Facilities Fund (BEFF) received a cut in its 2019 appropriation under the Palace proposal due to underspending.

Key to the cash-budgeting scheme proposal was the absorptive capacity of agencies and projects to allow the efficient use of funds and their capability to actually deliver by the end of the fiscal year.

Based on Department of Budget and Management (DBM) data, for fiscal year 2015, of the P53.875 billion appropriated to the fund only P 39.296 billion has been obligated while P6.684 billion was disbursed. In 2016, P82.262 billion was appropriated, of which P59.078 billion was obligated and only P16.375 billion had been disbursed. In 2017, an additional P36.52 billion or P118.782 billion was appropriated to the fund but only P113.647 billion was obligated and only P7.393 billion was disbursed.

“The Executive has compelling reasons for the funds reductions.

The Palace version also slashed P3 billion from the Student Financial Assistance Program (StuFAP) of the Commission on Higher Education.

The budget for StuFAP becomes redundant due to the implementation of the Free Tuition Law, particularly the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) component of the law which was given an additional P11 billion allocation in the 2019 budget.

The TES component is allocated P27 billion in the 2019 proposed budget from an appropriation of P16 billion in 2018.

Under the TES, students enrolled in both public and private institutions can receive allowances for room and board costs, transportation, books and school supplies.

The biggest reduction was on the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) that received only P50 million down from P30 billion this year due to the dismal spending performance of the DoH.

DBM records show total disbursements for HFEP reached only P13.5 billion which was less than 10 percent of the total P138 billion appropriations provided for the program since 2008.

The DoH was asked to assess the program on its cost-effectiveness, thus the P50 million budget.

A compromise was reached in which the cash-budgeting scheme will undergo a transition for implementation until after the polls next year.

There lies the conflict between the interests of dirty politics and the nation as necessary reforms are stalled for a year to give way to elected officials’ demand.

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