Budget chief: Economic managers eye Duterte's help to exempt 75 infra projects in poll ban

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Budget Secretary Ben Diokno. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 30) — Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said they may ask President Rodrigo Duterte's assistance to request the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt at least 75 infrastructure projects from the 2019 election spending ban.

"The economic managers are unanimous," he said. "We are ready to a submit a memo to the President and he will in turn ask Comelec to exempt at least the certified major projects so that there will be little disruption in our 'Build, Build, Build' program."

Diokno said they are confident enough the exemption will be granted as the projects will not affect the midterm elections.

"This is for national welfare and development, and I think Comelec will be broad-minded enough," Diokno said.

On Monday, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia first bared their plans to ask Comelec to meet government growth and expenditure targets. Pernia sought a blanket request from Malacañang to exempt these projects.

Diokno, on the other hand, said this may not be approved.

"In general you have to specify the projects. You cannot ask for blanket exemption," the Budget Chief explained.

The Comelec ban on public works will be from March 29 to May 12.

In an economic briefing in Malacañang Wednesday, Finance Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino said he "welcomes" the proposed exemption on the big-ticket infrastructure projects. 

Anna Mae Lamentillo, chairperson of the government's "Build, Build, Build" program, also welcomed the development.

"Personally, yes (the proposal will help the program). Because para tuloy-tuloy po ang ating (so that we can continue our) big-ticket projects. We want to observe the proper timeline, but of course, there are certain bureaucratic conditions that will delay the implementation," the chairperson said.

Diokno previously said they expect at least at 7 percent gross domestic product growth in 2019, citing that the Philippine economy grows by about 0.5 to 1 percent in election years.

"Our budget for next year for infra is close to ₱1 trillion. And it's very important that we have it started during the dry months. So we can say that maybe at least half of that trillion pesos will get started this first quarter," Diokno said.