House signals readiness to sign 2019 budget committee report

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Rolando G. Andaya, Jr.

THE House contingent to the Bicameral Conference Committee is ready to sign the committee report for the P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget, Rep. Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of the 1st district of Camarines Sur, who chairs the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, said on Wednesday.

“We, in the House, are already done with our part as regards the bicam. If our (Senate) counterparts are ready to sign this afternoon, we are also likewise ready to sign this afternoon,” he said.

“We have another round of meetings with Senator (Loren B.) Legarda this afternoon, but just to advance the information, the House is ready to adopt a bicameral conference committee report at this point in time.”

Mr. Andaya was speaking before the House Committee on Appropriations in its continuing deliberations on the budget practices of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). Session was scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday, but both chambers moved it to Friday after missing the ratification deadline on Feb. 6.

Congress will resume on May 20 after the elections, and will have three weeks or nine session days to finish remaining legislative work. The 17th Congress closes on June 7.

Senators were due to caucus Wednesday evening to review the bicameral committee’s output,

Ahead of the caucus, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters in a chance interview: “Sen. Loren B. Legarda will report to us on the bicam and then we will take it up, we will play it by ear thereafter what the situation is, and on what has been agreed or not agreed, and whether we approve of the agreed items or not.”

Ms. Legarda heads the chamber’s finance committee.

“The small bicam was meant to facilitate the approval process but the whole bicam will still be approving it before they give it to us in plenary. So they have another bicam session after we hold the caucus. The reason for the caucus is to brief… the members of the Senate what has been agreed on. Nothing is written in stone.”

Mr. Andaya said he supports the proposal of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson over the weekend that President Rodrigo R. Duterte exercise his veto power on line items to get rid of the “pork” in the budget.

“We see it as a welcome development, we know the veto message will be the starting point in making clear to the public what will happen to the budget come execution time after we have authorized such,” Mr. Andaya said.

At the same hearing, the panel subpoenaed Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, upon the motion of Leyte-3rd district Rep. Vicente S.E. Veloso, for failing to appear before the panel for a fifth time.

“This is the fifth time he has snubbed our hearing,” Mr. Andaya added.

Mr. Diokno explained in writing he did not attend the hearing in the absence of directives from superiors. He also asserted that he should not be cited in contempt because he has “sufficiently answered all the issues and concerns” raised by the chamber during the Question Hour on Dec. 11.

“I wish to clarify that I was not able to accede to your invitations (without a direct order to appear) in view of prior scheduled official commitments that can no longer be cancelled,” the Budget Secretary said in a letter, dated Jan. 31. Regardless, the panel still approved the motion to subpoena Mr. Diokno to attend the following hearing on Friday. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Camille A. Aguinaldo