Senate concedes it won't pass 2019 budget this year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 11) — The proposed ₱3.757 trillion national budget for 2019 will no longer hurdle the Senate before 2018 ends, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri said Tuesday, citing lack of time to scrutinize the proposal.

Zubiri said senators, at most, can finish the interpellations on the General Appropriations Bill this week and pass it on second and third reading when session resumes on January 14 next year. Congress only has until Thursday before session goes on a month-long Christmas break.

"We will do our best to finish the budget at least to end interpellation, but mukhang hanggang dun na lang, unless magpatawag si Presidente ng special session hindi namin matatapos ang budget on time," the Senator said.

"At very least matatapos namin ang interpellation by Thursday, maga-adjourn na kasi ang House and technically we can't continue our sessions when the House is adjourned, so unless there is special session called, technically we end on Thursday," he added.

Zubiri explained they lost time for the budget due to discussions on the extension of martial law in Mindanao. Senators spent half a day on Monday discussing with security officials why there is a need to once again extend martial law in the area. They are also set to hold a joint session with congressmen on Wednesday to discuss and vote on the extension.

"Di namin kasalanan ito dahil nagkaroon ng [martial law] extension. Kung wala tapos na sana kami tomorrow, then plano namin second and third reading Thursday," he said.

Malacañang earlier requested senators to ensure the passage of the 2019 budget this year to prevent the re-enactment of the current budget.

Budget Secretary Ben Diokno earlier explained a re-enacted budget in January and the ban on awarding of projects during the election season would mean there would be no new infrastructure project in the first half of 2019.

Responding to Malacañang's call, Zubiri earlier said senators "will work double time" to have the bill ratified on December 13 and signed by President Rodrigo Duterte before the end of the year.

Now that they won't be able to pass the budget, Zubiri said senators are looking at adding a special provision in the budget to allow all projects under capital outlay to be exempted from the election ban.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, meanwhile, blamed the House of Representatives for the delay in the passage of the proposed budget, saying senators received the bill late this year due to insertions of congressmen in the budget.

"Really, from the very start, if we look at the previous years, palaging nakakarating sa amin 'yung budget about second week of November, eh ngayon dumating sa amin, dahilan sa kanilang mga insertions sa House, just a few days before December," Drilon said.

He assured that government workers will not be adversely affected by the budget delay.