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Regional News

Philippine Congress approves $72.15 billion national budget for 2019

MANILA (Reuters) — The Philippine Congress on Friday approved and ratified the nation’s 3.757 trillion pesos ($72.15 billion) budget for 2019, ending weeks of impasse and allowing the government to spend on infrastructure projects to boost the economy.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has pledged to usher in the “golden age of infrastructure” and lift economic growth in the country of more than 100 million people.

The 2019 budget, the third under Duterte’s presidency, will bankroll the construction and expansion of roads, bridges, railways and airports.

This year’s budget “lays the foundation for an inclusive growth and sustainable development,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Key budget priorities include infrastructure development, poverty reduction and social services, he added. The departments of education, public works and interior will secure the most funds for this year.

The government is shifting to an annual cash-based budgeting system wherein all government projects budgeted should be delivered within the same fiscal year. The country operated on a 3.767 trillion pesos budget last year that carries a two-year validity for allocations.

The budget will need signing by the president, who could still veto several items. Congress will go on a 14-week break starting Feb. 9 to give way to mid-term elections, which is seen as a referendum on the Philippine president’s policies.

The Southeast Asian nation has been operating on a re-enacted budget since the start of the year because of the delay in budget approval, preventing the government from spending on new projects.

Approving the budget took time as lawmakers initially opposed a cash-based budget system and scrutinized what some lawmakers said was funding for pet projects.

The government aims to lift economic growth to between 7-8 percent this year after it missed the previous year’s downwardly revised goal of 6.5-6.9 percent.

The Philippine leader pledged to spend $180 billion on infrastructure to create jobs and attract foreign investors turned off by high power prices and transport bottlenecks.