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House clears 2019 budget hurdle

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THE LEGISLATIVE DEADLOCK over the P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 appears finally headed for resolution, with the House of Representatives “physically retrieving” on Wednesday the copy it transmitted to the Senate on March 11.

“The House leadership has dispatched the Secretary General to the Senate to physically retrieve the budget books that we sent to the senators,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of Camarines Sur’s 1st district said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This is in line with the Speaker’s instruction to allow a last-ditch effort to break the budget impasse,” he explained.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Tuesday met with House leaders, including San Juan Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora, whom she assigned to discuss the “proposed new version” with the Senate.

Ms. Arroyo also directed Mr. Andaya to form a three-man team to meet with Senate counterparts to address contentious allocations under the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

“We are giving ourselves five days to complete this task,” he said.




Mr. Zamora and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Monday said the House had agreed to recall the P3.757-trillion budget from the Senate. Mr. Andaya, however, asserted the House’s move is not an act of “withdrawing” from its earlier stance that itemizing lump sums after ratification was not illegal.

“We want to make it clear, though. We are not withdrawing or backtracking from our earlier position. We maintain that the House did nothing unconstitutional, illegal or irregular when we approved and ratified the 2019 GAB in plenary session.” He said.

“We hope that the contingents from the Senate and the House can agree to a common venue for a formal discussion on the issues and not debate on the merits of their positions through media.”

With the retrieval of the 2019 national budget by the House, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said he would have Finance committee chairperson Senator Loren B. Legarda and vice-chairperson Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson meet with the House to break the deadlock.

“I welcome the retrieval, I could have sent it back for being unfaithful to what was approved by the bicam and ratified in plenary but I did not as prudence dictates. Our Congress is bicameral. It’s very elementary,” he told reporters in a mobile phone message on Wednesday.

“I’ll ask Loren and Ping (Lacson) for a favor to sit with them.”

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri appealed to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to hold another meeting with Congress leaders. “I would appeal to Malacañang to exert pressure on our colleagues in the House of Representatives to just return to the version approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives last month,” he told reporters after a legislative hearing.

“I think there should be another meeting with the President… with the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

The Senate-House disagreement stemmed from the Senate’s allegation that P79 billion and P15 billion from the budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Health, respectively, were realigned after the Feb. 8 ratification. The House argued the changes were mere “itemization” of lump sums. Mr. Andaya on March 10 countered that the Senate itself made some P75-billion “post-bicam realignments.”

House Majority Leader Fredenil H. Castro of Capiz’s 2nd district said in a mobile phone message that “the House of Representatives… has to take one step backward subject to the condition… that it [budget] should be stripped of lump sum appropriations”.

Just last Tuesday, Mr. Sotto raised the prospect that the government will continue to operate on a re-enacted budget until August, leaving new projects unfunded. The inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee last week slashed its 2019 gross domestic product growth forecast to 6-7% from 7-8% originally as the government operates on a reenacted budget, while the National Economic and Development Authority said separately that GDP could expand by as little as 4.2-4.9% if the new budget were enacted as late as August. — Charmaine A. Tadalan with C. A. Aguinaldo