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Nat’l Budget first, then Charter change

THE national budget is the single most important piece of legislation by any Congress and it is only right that it be given priority over moves to convene Congress into a Constitutional Assembly to amend our current 1987 Constitution.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez announced last Tuesday that the House expects to receive the proposed bill for the 2017 General Appropriations Act on Monday, August 15, from Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno. It will total P3.35 trillion, 11.6 percent higher than the current 2016 budget of P3.002 trillion.

The House will deliberate on the proposal with all its details, approve it, then send it to the Senate. It will be a long process, involving as it does billions of tax along with borrowed money, after which it will be sent to Malacañang. The National Budget must be approved by Congress by November and signed into law by President Duterte in time for the start of the New Year. We cannot have a reenacted national budget, as happened in some years in some previous administrations when Malacañang and Congress took their time, unable to reach agreement or simply content with using the old budget.

As Congress now concentrates on the budget, it has decided to relegate efforts to amend the Constitution to January next year. In the meantime, we would urge President Duterte to create the 20-man commission proposed by Speaker Alvarez to start studying the present Constitution and propose possible amendments. Composed of recognized legal and constitutional authorities, including former Chief Justice Renato Puno, other noted former officials, and deans of law schools, the commission could turn over its recommendations to the official body – whether Constitutional Assembly or Constitutional Convention – for its consideration.

President Duterte’s call for a federal form of government to help bring about more equitable development of the country is expected to lead the proposed constitutional changes. There may be others, such as the call to ease current restrictions on foreign investments, which the last House of Representatives approved.

But all that has been moved to January. For now, the national budget will have priority in Congress. As the first national budget of the new administration, it will determine to a great extent the direction the Philippine government will be taking in the next six years. We expect increased funding for agriculture which has long been neglected; for economic programs that will promote employment; for more roads, bridges, schoolhouses, and other infrastructure needed for economic growth; for defense and security equipment and programs so we don’t have to rely too much on allies to help us when our national interests are threatened. And we will need funding for the hundreds of rehabilitation centers needed to help the hundreds of thousands of drug addicts that the ongoing anti-drug campaign has caused to come out in the open.

All this in due time. We are confident our new national leaders, backed by the support given by the people in the recent election, will live up to their expectations and bring about a new era of progress and national pride for our country.