Executive-House budget impasse elevated to Duterte and Arroyo

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‘I think the President needs an explanation — a very clear explanation — of why people who may be considered his closest allies have rejected it outright.’ — Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr.

IT may take a sitting President and a former president-turned Speaker to break the current deadlock between the Executive and the House of Representatives over the P3.757-trillion national spending plan proposed for next year.

“[T]here’s another meeting tonight… with the President (Rodrigo R. Duterte)… I think it will be attended by Speaker (Gloria M.) Arroyo,” House Appropriations committee Chairman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, noting that a meeting that he held that morning with Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno and Senate Finance committee chairman Loren B. Legarda failed to break the impasse.

The office of Ms. Arroyo — herself a former president whose term saw budgets reenacted after proposed spending plans failed to secure legislative approval or be signed into law — confirmed her appointment with Mr. Duterte. Mr. Duterte greeted Ms. Arroyo at the start of his keynote at an event with some business leaders in Malacañang yesterday evening.

Mr. Nograles opposes the Executive’s shift to a “cash-based” system for the proposed national budget — characterized by allocations for projects that can be auctioned off within a year — from the existing “obligation-based” framework that provides funds for projects that can be auctioned off over a two-year horizon, after noting that the proposal for 2019 is even less than this year’s P3.767-trillion spending plan.

But state economic managers have argued that, on a cash basis, this year’s national budget is less than what they submitted to Congress for 2019.

SENATE SUPPORTS PALACE
The Senate, meeting in a caucus anew on Tuesday afternoon, straddled the opposing camps, saying it supports the Executive’s cash-based system after announcing on Monday that the chamber will have to wait for the budget to emerge from the House, as required by law.

“The entire Senate, in caucus, have agreed to support the President’s budget re[garding] cash-based obligations,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto told reporters in a mobile phone message yesterday evening, admitting that this position puts his chamber at odds with the House.

Saying “[t]he Senate supports a cash-based budgeting system that will help discipline the bureaucracy [and] address the problem of underspending,” Ms. Legarda said in a separate text that “[t]he Senate Committee on Finance will continue to conduct budget hearings based on the 2019 National Expenditure Program that was submitted to Congress and we will introduce amendments as necessary.”

Recalling his meeting with Mr. Diokno in the morning, Mr. Nograles said in Tuesday’s briefing: “Right now, parang ang dating is nagha-hardline sila (Right now, it seems the Executive has taken the hard line),” adding he was “hopeful na mabi-break pa rin ang impasse. I’m not closing my doors or any windows. I’m keeping my lines of communication open.”

Mr. Diokno has warned that Congress’ failure to approve the national budget in time for year-end enactment would trigger automatic reenactment of this year’s spending plan for use in 2019 —mid-term election year — with Malacañang calling the shots on allocations. Mr. Nograles has insisted there is still time to make amendments in the spending proposal, while a Senate caucus on Monday yielded a decision to await the outcome in the House.

On Tuesday, Mr. Nograles warned that a reenacted budget would be more costly, since it would require a supplemental budget for items — including succeeding tranches of salary standardization for state workers — not covered in 2018.

In a briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr. reminded Mr. Nograles that he was standing in the way of “the President’s budget… not the Secretary’s budget”.

“This is not the Secretary’s budget. This is the President’s budget. So I think the President needs an explanation, very clear explanation of why people who may be considered his closest allies have rejected it outright,” Mr. Roque said.

“[W]e’re also reminding them that there’s a concept of political allies and political enemies, and majority and minority. The concept of being in the majority is that you want to support the administration. And when you reject the project outright, it’s not something you expect from an administration party.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Arjay L. Balinbin and CAA