By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor

The national government’s budget for 2019, which should have been passed into law at the end of 2018, does not take effect until this month — a full quarter behind schedule.

As such, expenditures for the first quarter of the year were based on last year’s budget, thereby throwing the Duterte administration’s spending well below the targeted sums. This is expected to result in a slowdown, according to economists projecting the effect of the delay in the enactment of the PHP 3.757-trillion national budget for 2019.

To recall, the Senate and the House of Representatives have been locked in an acrimonious debate over the budget, after the former accused the latter of “doctoring” the final version approved by the bicameral body and transmitted to the President for signing into law. Duterte refused to sign the version forwarded to him due to questions over its constitutionality.

After meeting Senate and House leaders in Malacañang two weeks ago, the parties agreed to revert to the original version agreed upon without the changes that allies of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reportedly inserted into the finished bill.

Still, the “final” version that was submitted to the Palace last week was not without controversy when Senate President Tito Sotto said that the Senate still had reservations about PHP 95 billion in post-ratification allocations made by the House.

Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III told media last week that the government is now hard pressed to catch up with its infrastructure work.

Photo: Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III (ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO)

The Duterte administration launched last year its massive “Build Build Build” infrastructure program, with much of the funding coming from the 2019 budget, as well as loans from China. By law, the May elections ban the government from implementing infrastructure projects, further pushing back the job-generating activities.

“It’s already late. (There’s) already (an) election ban. So, I don’t know if they can really catch up. With the awarding of the contracts, election ban (is) two days from now, how can you award a contract?” Dominguez said.

Last week, Socio-economic Planning Sec. Ernesto Pernia said the first quarter’s growth rate is “already likely trimmed” as a result of the delayed budget enactment.

Previously, the inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee slashed its 2019 gross domestic product growth forecast to between six and seven percent from between seven and eight percent originally as the government operates on a re-now enacted budget.

Meanwhile, the National Economic and Development Authority headed by Pernia heads as director-general, estimated that operating on a re-enacted budget until April would cut full-year growth to between 6.1 percent and 6.3 percent.

Economists from ING Bank, Union Bank of the Philippines, and RCBC all agreed that the growth for the first quarter of this year would hover at the six percent range.

President Duterte was reportedly very displeased at the delayed budget, with Sen. Panfilo Lacson blaming Speaker Arroyo for trying to pull a fast one on the Senate with the revisions and insertions placed after the budget bill known as the General Appropriations Act was finalized.

The Duterte administration is expected to revise its growth forecast for this year to a lower figure due to the delayed signing of the 2019 budget.