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Budget monitor urges Congress to ensure GAA aligned with recovery, climate change goals

PHILSTAR FILE PHOTO

A NON-GOVERNMENT organization that monitors budget spending said Congress needs to review the government’s spending plans thoroughly to ensure they aid the economic recovery and help mitigate climate change, adding that legislators must not be rushed by the Palace’s certification of the 2023 budget bill as urgent.

The proposed P5.268-trillion budget for next year must, first and foremost, be up to the task of helping the Philippines whether the foreseeable economic challenges and worsening effects of climate change, it said.

“Certifying it as urgent shouldn’t mean preventing scrutiny of controversial budget items,” I-Lead Executive Director Zyza Nadine M. Suzara said in a Messenger chat. “The 19th Congress should ensure that the national budget is responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens.”

Citing the upcoming Congressional recess, Ms. Suzara acknowledged that “there is reason” to certify the 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA) as urgent.

“A delayed budget legislation process would be a worse scenario,” she said. “It could mean having a reenacted budget which could negatively affect the achievement of the Development Budget Coordination Committee’s (DBCC) macroeconomic targets.”

An urgent certification allows bills to skip some steps in the legislative process. The urgent certification is designed to keep the budget timetable on track and avoid the months-long delays that accompanied the 2019 budget.

Budgets are re-enacted when the spending plan for the new year is not passed in time, forcing the government to operate on the basis of the previous year’s spending plan.

Re-enacted budgets mean delays in the delivery of public services, according to Representative Stella Luz A. Quimbo, House appropriations committee vice-chair, said in a statement.

Citing the government’s economic planning agency, she said the re-enacted budget in 2019 cost the country 1-1.2 percentage points of growth that year.

The 2019 budget was passed in April of that year, meaning that the public works spending that the previous government depended on for growth missed a large portion of the dry-season window deemed ideal for construction before the rainy season set in.

Ms. Quimbo said legislators are expected to wrap up plenary debate for the budget bill on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

“It is the second stage of the budget process where Congress members dedicate another pair of eyes to review the proposed budget,” she said. “So far, we have terminated debates for (the budgets of) 61 agencies and constitutional bodies, leaving us with 14 more to deliberate.”

Ms. Quimbo said the budget is expected to be passed in the House before Oct. 1 and be approved by both chambers of Congress by the end of the year.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and credit company S&P Global Ratings recently lowered their growth forecasts for the Philippines, citing tightening monetary policy aimed at tempering inflation and the economic slowdown in major economies such as China and the US.

The IMF lowered its Philippine growth forecast for this year to 6.5% from the 6.7% estimate issued in July. Economic managers expect growth of 6.5-7.5% this year.

S&P, which lowered its own growth forecast to 6.3% from 6.5% previously, said it expects elevated core inflation to “drive up policy rates materially further” in the Philippines, Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles, in a briefing, said Philippine fundamentals remain “strong” and that the economy is experiencing “a resurgence.”

“Our economic managers forecast higher growth. They are in a much better position to make that determination,” she said when asked to comment on the IMF growth downgrade. “We will have to see in the end whether that forecast is going to be more accurate than the local forecast.”

Ms. Suzara said the 2023 proposed budget is not sufficient to generate new jobs.

“There is also no allocation for COVID-related expenditures like booster shots and the compensation and benefits of COVID-19 healthcare frontliners,” she added. 

The Philippines has relaxed mobility restrictions and outdoor face mask rules in a bid to reopen the economy further, including to foreign travelers. On Monday, the Department of Health (DoH) reported more than 17,000 infections in the Sept. 19-23 period.

Ms. Suzara said Congress also needs to provide for the activities prescribed by the Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction Roadmap.

According to the Budget department, the climate change adaptation (CCA) budget increased to P453.1 billion in the proposed 2023 budget from P289.7 billion in the 2022 General Appropriations Act. 

“These aggregate figures are meaningless if they do not talk about them vis-à-vis timebound plans and investment requirements for CCA,” Ms. Suzara said.

“The lack of significant growth in the agriculture budget outside of rice and corn is also troubling given that we have issues related to food security and sustainability,” said Philip Arnold P. Tuaño, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, in a Viber message.

“The decreases in the budget for the Departments of Health and Social Welfare and Development, given the ongoing pandemic, are worrisome,” he added.

Mr. Tuaño hopes the government expands its engagement with civil society and the academic community in preparing the budget. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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