Special session may herald possible budget compromise

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THE Senate’s proposal to hold a special session for the approval of a supplemental budget is a “workable compromise” to settle the impasse over the 2019 national budget, an analyst said Sunday.

The Senate last week asked the House of Representatives to recall the 2019 national budget, signed by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which it transmitted on March 11.

“We only suggest it if the House recalls what they sent and resend what we approved in the plenary. Then in case the President vetoes the lump sum, we can go into a special session to approve a supplemental budget,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a phone message to BusinessWorld, Saturday.

He noted this has been relayed by Senator Panfilo M. Lacson to the House, through San Juan Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora. When asked whether there has been any development since, Mr. Sotto said “none yet.”

Mr. Zamora, for his part, said in a phone message, Sunday, “there is nothing yet to report. We have finished some preliminary issues, but there are still large gaps to bridge between the versions of the two Houses of Congress.”

“We will, at all costs as soon as we can, have a budget for 2019.”

Ateneo Policy Center research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said via e-mail Sunday that “this week, Senate’s proposal could be the likely way out of this budget deadlock.”

“The Senate’s suggestion to hold a special session for a supplemental budget to accommodate the House’s position looks like a workable compromise. Initial reactions from some Congressmen to this proposal are not encouraging. But this weekend may have given our lawmakers the time to reconsider the backlash if they remain intransigent. They could enter this week with a softer attitude towards each other,” he said.

Dr. Perlita M. Frago-Marasigan, a University of the Philippines Political Science assistant professor, said if the House maintains its position, “the deadlock may continue until after the mid-term elections.”

“Two, the government projects will be funded by a reenacted budget. Third, the path of least resistance might be chosen. The Senate usually bases its decision on popular support,” she said in a phone message on Sunday.

Both analysts said any more delay in the budget enactment will have a severe impact on the economy. “The planned infrastructure projects will have no funds and therefore cannot proceed as planned. This is just one outcome our lawmakers must not trivialize,” Mr. Yusingco said, adding that health and social welfare services will also suffer.

“We need the new budget passed soon. This is the bottom line,” he added.

The House has been firm in its insistence on “itemizing” the P3.757-trillion budget following its ratification by both chambers on Feb. 8. The House has argued that keeping some funds in lump sum form, as approved in the committee report, makes the budget prone to corruption.

When asked what it sees as a possible compromise, given the opposing positions, House Majority Leader Fredenil H. Castro of the 2nd district of Capiz merely said the Senate should sign the transmitted budget.

“The House has done its obligation. It has forwarded to the Senate the Enrolled Bill duly signed by the Speaker,” Mr. Castro said in a phone message Sunday. “It’s now the turn of the Senate to comply with its obligation by signing the Enrolled Bill and transmit it to the President for his signature.”

Meanwhile, in a statement on Sunday, appropriations committee chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of the 1st district of Camarines Sur said the Budget itemized by the House will “not cripple” President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program, contrary to claims made by Mr. Lacson.

“What may stall the acceleration of infrastructure spending was the Senate’s unilateral decision to remove P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects,” he said in a statement. — Charmaine A. Tadalan