World News

Philippines’ Duterte speeds through $80 billion 2020 budget, spending up 12%

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday signed a record 4.1 trillion peso ($79.97 billion) budget for this year, ensuring timely funding for an infrastructure overhaul in one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.

Horse-trading in Congress delayed last year’s budget approval by four months, weighing down the Southeast Asian nation’s economic growth.

Total spending was 12% higher from 3.66 trillion pesos in 2019. Of this year’s budget, 38% was allotted for education, healthcare, housing and social welfare; 29% for infrastructure, tourism, trade, job generation and agriculture; and 11% for debt payments, Duterte said.

The Philippine leader had pledged to usher in the “golden age” of infrastructure by upgrading aging airports, seaports, roads and railways.

His $180 billion “Build, Build, Build” initiative aims to lift millions out of poverty and spread growth in the provinces. But the infrastructure plan was modified after authorities admitted that several big ticket infrastructure projects, like inter-island bridges were not feasible.

The timely budget approval bodes well for the economy, allowing it to fund much-needed infrastructure projects early in the year, said Michael Ricafort, an economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. “We now have catch-up spending especially on infrastructure.”

The government is targeting an economic growth of 6.5%-7.5% this year. A government inter-agency last month cut its growth target for 2019 to 6.0%-6.5% from 6.0%-7.0% to reflect weak economic activity in the first half.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)