Why does it feel like 2019 all over again as the bickering over the budget started shamefully involving the leadership of the House of Representatives and which resurrected threats to the early approval of the budget?
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano vowed the House’s approval of the 2021 General Appropriations Act in November to have it delivered to the table of President Rodrigo Duterte in December and signed before the end of the year.
That pledge, unfortunately, is metamorphosing into a wishful thought of the overly ambitious leader of the chamber.
An acrimonious trading of allegations led to the 2019 budget being delayed until nearly half of that year was over. Such possibility is now rearing its ugly head as the same individuals are jockeying for lump sums in the current Congress.
Economic managers again needed to be steadfast against efforts to rechannel government resources for political ends.
Memorable in 2018 was the classic tiff over pork barrel between then Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno who is now Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor. Diokno refused to give way and became the target of the assault of House members.
Andaya and his cohorts turned out to be after the P45 billion Road Board funds that congressmen usually tap for election campaign money.
It would take the same commitment and determination to shield the 2021 budget and the Bayanihan 2 stimulus funds from the foul agenda of the current House occupants.
To show which side had the upper hand in the 2018 tussle, President Rodrigo Duterte abolished the Road Board and ordered the return of the motor vehicle user’s charge, which the graft-prone body manages, to the national treasury.
It was an interesting battle between a former and at that time current head of the Department of Budget and Management.
The records of both officials as Budget secretary reflected their styles and integrity.
Three budgets, in 2001, 2004 and 2006, were reenacted for the entire year, while another four, in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009, were partially-reenacted.
Andaya was Budget secretary from February 2006 to February 2010.
Also, in implementing the reenacted budgets, the regime that included Andaya exercised carte blanche authority to rewrite the budget.
Even the budget for capital outlays under Andaya was reenacted, allowing the Arroyo administration to fund new projects, contrary to the constitutional provision that no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.
Budget implementation was micromanaged during the Arroyo administration, which means that most of the decisions on the use of public funds came from the Executive, as against the current budget system, which is rules-based and in which the Palace has little discretion in budget releases.
The budget was sidetracked then despite the fervent appeal of Mr. Duterte to Congress to stop the useless altercations and pass the budget. The Palace said the delay was “unacceptable” to Filipinos who voted for the officials.
What is urgent now is to help Filipinos keep their heads above water during the onslaught of the virus that remains unrelenting despite the almost half-a-year effort of mankind to defeat it.
Those who are tearing at each other like wolves fighting over a kill just to obtain a share of the pork barrel will be remembered in kind when Filipinos troop to the polls in 2022.