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Delayed 2019 budget expected in Malacañang by March 10

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Panfilo M. Lacson
SENATOR PANFILO M. LACSON — PHILSTAR

THE delayed 2019 budget remained untransmitted to the President well into the third month of the year, amid claims of last-minute revisions to the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) approved by Congress, though a key legislator said the legislation will be forwarded to the Palace by March 10.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson alleged in a statement Tuesday that the GAB is being “manipulated” after both Houses of Congress ratified the measure, but House Appropriations Committee chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of the 1st district of Camarines Sur said the last-minute adjustments are being undertaken to “itemize” certain lump-sum funds.

“The House is itemizing the appropriations therein, fleshing out lump-sum funds, without departing from the approved specifications of the House-Senate approved budget, and by so doing make the budget more transparent and easy to scrutinize,” Mr. Andaya said in a statement Tuesday.

“We believe that by detailing the items in the budget, by enumerating what will be funded, projects and programs, per agency and by district, will be clear and evident,” he added.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s spokesman Salvador S. Panelo on Tuesday said Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has rejected claims of last-minute changes to the budget.

“According to Speaker Arroyo, as far as she knows, whatever is approved in the (bicameral conference committee) is now the one being printed for submission to the Executive,” Mr. Panelo told reporters after his phone conversation with Ms. Arroyo.

Mr. Lacson said the “manipulations” include Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) funding of P25 million for individual legislators as opposed to P8 million each for others.

The House and the Senate ratified the budget bill on Feb. 8, but have yet to transmit the final version to the President for signing. Mr. Andaya said in a phone message that the chamber plans to transmit the 2019 GAB on “March 10.”

Minority Leader Danilo E. Suarez of the 3rd district of Quezon called legislators with reduced funding “collateral damage” of the House’s leadership struggles.

Also on Tuesday, the House Minority bloc said it will continue with ongoing investigations against former Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno after his appointment as the new governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

“There are still pending issues in the House. We have no closure,” Mr. Suarez said. “I intend to continue with the hearings, taking advantage of my remaining months in Congress.”

Mr. Lacson called the “manipulation” of the budget “brazen and illegal” as well as “a clear violation of the 1987 Constitution, which states in Article VI Section 26: “Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed.”

Asked to comment, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III on Tuesday said he was consulting with the Senate committee on finance, which is headed by Senator Loren B. Legarda, on the allegations of Mr. Lacson.

“Yes, I’m aware and I’m consulting (Senator) Loren (B. Legarda) and Ping (referring to Mr. Lacson). I think I would know what to do,” he said in a mobile phone message to reporters.

“I will not sign anything that we did not approve. You should know me better than that,” he added.

Economic managers have stressed that further delays in the passage of the 2019 national budget will hurt the country’s economic growth in the first quarter of the year and will delay the government’s big-ticket projects.

Congress’ deliberations on the 2019 national budget were delayed by allegations of “insertions” made by both chambers of Congress, which have been branded “pork barrel” in another form. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Arjay L. Balinbin, Camille A. Aguinaldo

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