By Charmaine A. Tadalan
MONDAY saw possible resolution of the deadlock between the two chambers of Congress over the P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019, after a member of the House of Representatives (HoR) tasked to deal with the Senate on this matter said the House would recall its copy of the spending plan which senators claimed contained adjustments made after the spending plan was ratified.
The delay in enactment of the P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 had prompted the inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee on Wednesday last week to cut its 2019 gross domestic product growth forecast to 6-7% from 7-8% originally and the National Economic and Development Authority to say separately that GDP could expand by as little as 4.2-4.9% if the new budget were enacted as late as August.
Recalling his conversation with San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson told reporters on the sidelines of the groundbreaking of the new Senate Building in Taguig City, Monday: “Yesterday, he gave me a call and he said meron nang approval ang HoR leadership na ire-recall nila today. And it bears watching if they will really withdraw their version of the enrolled bill today. And then from there we will move forward.”
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said last March 15 that Mr. Zamora had been tasked to negotiate with the Senate on the budget impasse.
“After clearing it with the SP (Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III) na may ganoong negotiations, he gave me the go signal to proceed. So ‘yan ang resulta yesterday. But it bears watching today, if today they will really withdraw their version of the enrolled bill,” Mr. Lacson said.
“If they do not, we don’t have an enrolled bill, and we won’t have any national budget until August, when the leadership of the HoR changes.”
Mr. Zamora confirmed in a mobile phone message on Monday that “yes, I told Senator Lacson this”.
Sought for comment, however, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rolando G. Andaya of Camarines Sur’s 1st district — who has been at the fore of debates with Senate leaders on this matter — said in a separate text message that he has “no idea what they’re talking about.”
Mr. Sotto said via text at 4 p.m. that there was “no word yet” on whether the budget was actually recalled by the House.
The ratified P3.757-trillion budget, signed by Speaker Arroyo, has been with the Senate since March 11; but it has not been signed by Mr. Sotto who cited changes by the House following ratification on Feb. 8.
Mr. Andaya had countered that all the House did was break down lump sums, but Senate leaders said the affected amounts were then given to favored districts.
Ms. Arroyo on Monday maintained that the House did not transmit an “unconstitutional bill.”
Speaking to reporters after a hearing of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, she said “we would never put the President (Rodrigo R. Duterte) in a position of signing an unconstitutional bill.”
“It’s the same process that was done even before I was Speaker. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that lump sums are unconstitutional. We cannot agree to a lump-sum allocation.”
The Senate had earlier flagged that P79 billion of the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways and P15 billion of Department of Health funds had been reallocated.
Mr. Andaya on March 10 countered, saying the Senate had likewise made “post-bicam realignments,” amounting to P75 billion.
Mr. Andaya said he has yet to be briefed on the discussion between Senator Lacson and Mr. Zamora, but asserted his authority over the budget as chairman of the House Appropriations committee.
“As Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, my task is to steer the approval of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill in the House of Representatives,” he said in a statement, Monday.
“No congressman has the authority, without plenary approval, to order the recall of the enrolled form of any bill already transmitted to the Senate.”
He added: “I really do not know what they are talking about. As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I cannot undo an act authorized by the members of Congress. I am just one out of the 291. My powers come from them. A few Senators cannot overturn an institutional act.”
University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chairman Dennis C. Coronacion in a mobile phone message said the move of the House to recall its copy of the 2019 national budget shows “the House leadership is coming to understand that it should know how to compromise to solve the stalemate on the budget.”