SENATE President Vicente C. Sotto III said failure to promptly resolve the dispute of both chambers of Congress over the 2019 budget will prolong the effectivity of the reenacted 2018 budget until August — a scenario that government economists said would dampen gross domestic product (GDP) to about 4.9%-5.1%.
The 2019 budget, which remains untransmitted to Malacañang because of a dispute about modifications made after it was ratified by representatives of both chambers sitting in bicameral conference committee. The House calls its modifications “itemizations” to clarify spending items appearing in lump-sum form.
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the 2019 budget has not been withdrawn from the Senate, contrary to claims that an agreement has been reached clearing the way for the House of Representatives to recall it.
“No, we have not withdrawn our version. We’re in discussions about what is the proposed new version,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the Nickel Initiative 2019 Forum on Tuesday. “I’m going to meet today with the House members, and with Congressman Ronnie Zamora,” she added, referring to San Juan Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora.
Mr. Zamora, who was designated by the Speaker to negotiate with the Senate, said along with Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Sunday that the House has agreed to recall the P3.757-trillion budget, transmitted on March 11. House appropriations committee chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr., however, said he was not briefed about the agreement.
When asked if the chamber will insist on its version, which its members itemized post-ratification, the Speaker said, “No, we will insist on no lump sum because that is what is unconstitutional. That’s what we will insist — no lump sum.”
“Now as to the details, we’ll see,” she added.
“If we don’t come to an agreement and then Tito Sotto does not sign the bill, then there’s no bill to send to the President. So I do not know if we will but I would wish we would,” Ms. Arroyo added.
Mr. Sotto said conflicting reports from the House are adding to the confusion in the Senate and added he expects the reenacted 2018 budget, in place since the start of the year, to remain in place until August, if the House of Representatives fails to come up with a decision.
“We’re confused about the real score. We will just wait for them to make up their minds once and for all; otherwise, we can wait until June 30,” Mr. Sotto told reporters in a chance interview on the sidelines of the Senate committee on public service hearing on Tuesday.
“If they do not withdraw and revert to the original ratified version, then it’s going to be in August for sure,” he said. “By May 20, if they do not act, I have no confidence (in the budget passing).”
The National Economic and Development Authority has projected gross domestic product growth to fall to as slow as 4.9-5.1% if the 2019 budget is passed in August.
Senators have alleged that the House realigned P79 billion and P15 billion worth of allocations for the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Health, respectively, after the proposed budget was ratified on Feb. 8. The House later countered that the Senate also made some P75-billion in post-ratification realignments.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a briefing that Malacañang will not meddle in the ongoing dispute, but urged both chambers to pass the National Budget.
“We’ll just wait for them to settle their differences. No move from Malacañang,” he said Tuesday. “We urge them earnestly to pass the bill. We are telling them even that the people will not take it lightly, if they continue to ignore the demands of the time.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan