Congress to transmit to the President the bill extending the availability of funds under the 2019 budget

The Senate has approved on third and final reading the bill extending the validity of the capital outlay (CO) and maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) items in the 2019 national budget for one year.

After completing the period of interpellations for the P4.1 trillion national budget, the Senate took up House Bill 5437 and with a vote of 19-0-0, decided to adopt it without amendments, which would pave the way for its immediate transmittal to Malacañang since a bicameral conference committee meeting would no longer be necessary.

Committee on Finance chairman Sonny Angara explained that as an appropriation bill, this must originate from the House, which was why the Senate had to wait until HB 5437 was approved last November 18 before taking any action on the measure.

Originally, the House and Senate were supposed to pass a joint resolution for the extension of the availability of the CO and MOOE of the 2019 national budget but decided to take a different path because of the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Ang Nars party list case.

In the said decision, the Supreme Court noted that “A joint resolution is not a bill and its passage does not enact the joint resolution into a law even if it follows the requirements expressly prescribed in the Constitution for enacting a bill into law.”

It added that “neither the Rules of the Senate nor the Rules of the House of Representatives can amend the Constitution which recognizes that only a bill can become a law.”

In response to the ruling, Angara filed Senate Bill 1153 as the counterpart measure to House Bill 5437.

Under Section 65 of Republic Act 11260 or the 2019 General Appropriations Act, “All appropriations authorized in this Act shall be available for release and obligation for the purpose specified, and under the same special provisions applicable thereto, until December 31, 2019.”

Executive Order No. 91, issued by President Duterte on September 9, 2019 on the implementation of the cash-based budgeting system, also provides that appropriations for CO and MOOE for 2019 “shall be valid for obligation until 31 December 2019.

This means that all unutilized appropriations for 2019 will lapse and revert to the National Treasury unless Congress authorizes the extension of its validity and availability.

“As of September 30 this year, a little more than P261 billion of the people’s money—that has already been programmed but has yet to be released—could lapse if our bill does not pass muster,” Angara said.

While the problem with budget disbursements is something that is present every year, the 2019 national budget faced even more challenges because of its late enactment.

The 2019 General Appropriations Act was signed on April 15 and so the government had to operate on a reenacted 2018 national budget for the first four months of the year.

By the time the GAA was signed, the election ban on construction of infrastructure projects also kicked in, “so in effect, for six months we were operating on a reenacted budget,” Angara said.

“Wala tayong bagong budget kaya yung mga bagong proyekto, hindi naumpisahan. That’s why we want to extend yung validity nung 2019 budget,” Angara added.

The bill amends Section 65 of RA 11260 on the availability of appropriations to extend the same from December 31, 2019 to December 30, 2020.