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Legarda: May 2019 polls, government workers' salary hike to push through

MANILA – The national and local elections slated in May and the planned salary hike of government workers this year under the Salary Standardization Law will push through, whether or not the proposed 2019 national budget is enacted.

Senator Loren Legarda has assured the public during Wednesday's bicameral conference committee hearing that there will be funding for the polls and the salary adjustment of government employees.

"I personally called the DBM to discuss this, and they assured us that for the requirements of the May elections, the funds will be sourced from the P10 billion unexpired fund of Comelec (Commission on Elections) as well as from the contingency fund. And the fourth tranche of SSL 3 (Salary Standarization Law) will be sourced from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, "said Legarda, chairman of the Senate finance committee.

"Even if the bicameral conference meeting goes on for another week … these concerns will already be taken cared of separately. Meaning, hindi maapektuhan ang SSL at eleksiyon, anuman ang mangyari, "she added.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said it would be unconstitutional to implement the salary hike of government employees without passing the proposed budget for this year. This prompted House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr. to bring the matter to the Supreme Court.

"It means to say that the Mandamus case we brought to the Supreme Court, urging him to release funds from the MPBF, at this point in time, is rendered moot and academic. So finally, he just admitted to the puwede pala, "Andaya said.

Legarda issued the statement after some lawmakers warned of a possible "no election" scenario, if the government runs a reenacted budget for the entire 2019.

Prior to the bicameral meeting, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would propose to withdraw the Senate's version of the Genaral Appropriations Bill and proceed with a reenacted budget for 2019 to put an end to allegations of "pork barrel" in the proposed spending for this year.

The last meeting between the two chambers revealed that the Senate has been realigned close to P190 billion in its version of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill – more than the P51-billion reigned by the House of Representatives.

Despite the stand of the Senate leadership, the Senate panel, led by Legarda, did not withdraw the Chamber's version of the 2019 budget in Wednesday's bicam meeting. Both panels instead committed to discuss the proposed amendments and will aim to ratify a 2019 budget next week.

"Our commitment stands for a budget," Legarda assured the House panel.

"Feb. 6 is still the deadline, contrary to some rumormongers at the magkaka-reenacted budget tayo. We've been saying it since day 1. Magkakaroon tayo ng bagong budget, "Andaya said.

The House Appropriations Committee chairman proposed to cap the combined budget amendments by both houses to P200 billion. The members agreed. The panels will start looking for sources of budget realignments, before determining where it will be reallocated.

"The bigger house gets the bigger share. That's logical. With a percentage of the number of members alam mo. It gives you a big indication of how the sharing is to be done. That sharing has already been confirmed by all members of the bicam, including the Senate, that that will be the forumla. Somewhat close to that by the number of members, "Andaya said.

The House panel has authorized Andaya to speak to the Senate, while the upper Chamber has designated Legarda as its representative. The two will meet to discuss the itemization of lumpsum appropriations. The House has already received a copy of the Senate's budget recommendations.

"As a general rule, everything must be line itemized," Andaya said.

"But of course there will be exemptions," he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said it would be "physically impossible" to line itemize institutional amendments.

"Do not ask for the impossible. Kasi 'pag hiningan mo kaii ng imposible, paano namin maibibigay. Aabutin tayo mask 3 Pasko, hindi namin kaya ibigay 'yung hinihingi on line by line items of institutional amendments, "he told the media on the sidelines of the hearing.

"I'm supporting my Senate President. Kung 'yun ang hinihingi at hindi namin kaya i-deliver, wala kaming pupuntahan kundi mag-reenacted, "added Lacson.

Also during the hearing, Andaya asked the panels to "abandon" the cash-based budget system for 2019, saying it has "no legal basis" and "will cause more harm than good". Under the system, the government may apply, bid out, complete and pay projects within a single year.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon backed Andaya's proposal, citing the election ban on public works construction and the delays in the enactment of the 2019 budget.

"To adopt a cash-based budgeting this year is extremely difficult because it's an election year. We are delayed in the enactment of the budget. When we insist on a cash budget, you have barely six months to implement a project and get paid, it's simply impossible, "Drilon said.

"I'm inclined to accept as chair. But with the authority given to me by my colleagues, including the majority senator, who are not all here, may I just be given the opportunity to consult with them? I guarantee you will not be a deal breaker, "Legarda said.

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