MANILA, Philippines — Economic managers plan to ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt big-ticket projects of national significance from the election spending ban to prevent delays in execution and to minimize slowdown in economic growth.

In a briefing yesterday, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the economic team would bring this to President Duterte’s attention during the next Cabinet meeting on Feb. 6 so the best means of laying down the petition can be determined.

“One thing we can do is ask for exemption from the Comelec spending ban,” he said. “I think most infrastructure projects of national significance may be spared from the ban. I would expect the Comelec to be more understanding,” he said.

“We also hope the President can help appeal to the Comelec for the exemption,” he added.

From Jan. 13 to June 12, the Comelec is banning the release and spending of funds for public works.

To execute this, however, the 2019 national budget would still have to be passed, hopefully by next month as funding for several of the projects are already covered by the budget.

NEDA estimates that operating on a reenacted budget for a full year would cause economic growth to slow down between 1.6 to 2.3 percentage points.

NEDA Director for Public investment Jonathan Uy said petition for exemption would cover only projects of national significance as including local projects may defeat the purpose of the spending ban to de-politicize public investments.

“We are only taking about national projects,” he said.

Projects that may be covered by the petition are those that already had previous procurements and are needing addtional procurement to move forward.

“These projects are those that already had advance procurements and they need additional procurement,” said Uy, noting these also include projects funded by official development assistance (ODA).

“The new projects will get affected if we do not pass the budget and we do not get exemption from Comelec with regard to moving forward and awarding contracts,” he added.

Uy, said they have already identified key infrastructure projects that should be petitioned for exemption.

NEDA Undersecretary for policy and planning Rosemarie Edillon said projects such as those needing the establishment of new agencies would be hit the worst when the election spending ban takes effect in March.

“Because they will need to hire people, hire plantilla and you will have a ban taking effect in March. “We will have public work projects that cannot start,” she said.

Czeriza Valencia