2019News

House in ‘last-ditch’ bid to end budget impasse

By Jovee Marie de la Cruz, March 21 2019; Business Mirror

https://businessmirror.com.ph/2019/03/21/house-in-last-ditch-bid-to-end-budget-impasse/

Image Credit to Business Mirror

The leadership of the House of Representatives on Wednesday formed a three-man team that will meet with their Senate counterparts to break the budget impasse in five days.

House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. made the statement after the lower chamber “physically retrieved the budget books” it sent to Senate for signature.

The three-man team will include Andaya, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora. Andaya said the team will address “contentious issues” in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

“The House leadership has dispatched the Secretary-General [Roberto Maling] to the Senate to physically retrieve the budget books that we sent to the senators. This is in line with the Speaker’s instruction to allow a last-ditch effort to break the budget impasse,” he said.

“We are giving ourselves five days to complete this task,” Andaya added.

However, Andaya clarified that the House is not backtracking from its position that the lump funds in the 2019 budget must be itemized.

“We want to make it clear, though. We are not withdrawing or backtracking from our earlier position,” he said.

“We maintain that the House did nothing unconstitutional, illegal or irregular when we approved and ratified the 2019 GAB in plenary session,” Andaya added.

He said the lower chamber expressed 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 position through the media.”

Andaya said the budget itemization implemented by the lower chamber was within the parameters of the bicameral committee report ratified by each chamber.

If post-bicam itemization of lump-sum budget by the lower chamber is unconstitutional, Andaya said the Senate also has a post-bicam realignment worth P75 billion in the national budget.

According to Andaya, staff of the Senate personally delivered the documents containing budget itemization by senators on February 11—also after the ratification of the proposed 2019 GAA on February 8.

Intervention

The minority bloc of the House of Representatives also on Wednesday said President Duterte should now intervene to break the budget impasse between the two houses of Congress.

In a news conference, Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin said some senators are “arrogating” themselves the veto power reserved for the President.

“I think the only chance [to break the standoff between lower house and upper house] is when President Duterte [steps in and] tells them to submit to him the budget and he will exercise his veto power if there is unconstitutional [in the proposed GAA],” he said.

Andaya said the senators have the right to suggest to the President to veto the part of the national budget that they think unconstitutional.

‘Silent majority’

Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said majority of senators led by Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Loren Legarda are supportive to a new GAA than a reenacted budget.

In a news conference, Suarez said Legarda assured him that the “silent majority” in the Senate disagreed with the position of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on the budget.

“I talked to [Legarda] two days ago, as a matter of fact I’m going to see her tomorrow [Thursday]. She assured me that she and majority of senators really want to transmit the enrolled bill to the president,” Suarez said.

“Both Houses of Congress have ratified the national budget so it is only ministerial on their [Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Sotto] part to sign the enrolled bill,” he added.

In a statement, Lagman said the opposition bloc Magnificent 7 is supporting the House version of the budget because “I find it completely constitutional and right.”

“I will not support any House action or measure which violates the Constitution and relevant statutes, and the House version is free from any constitutional or legal infirmities,” he said.

According to Lagman, the House version of the budget measure is entirely compliant with the ratified bicameral committee report.

“As a former chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, I know that traditionally and invariably what the bicameral conference committee approves  are the respective expenditure ceilings of the departments and agencies, but the Senate and the House are authorized separately to complete the details within the ceilings,” he added.

Lagman said the lower chamber version did not breach the approved ceilings.

Lacson’s crusade

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday reaffirmed his crusade against graft-tainted multibillion pork-barrel funds annually allocated to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In a statement, Lacson signaled his determination in responding to congressmen’s criticisms he was waging a “vendetta” against political foes when he denounced pork funds in the 2019 national budget.

“My ‘vendetta’ is against the insatiably greedy politicians, especially those who lust after pork-barrel funds,” the senator clarified.

Lacson lamented the repeated counter-claims by pork-loving lawmakers he was driven to wage vengeance against those who wronged him. “To the congressmen who continue to claim vendetta is my motive in attacking the pork in the 2019 budget, you are right,” Lacson said, adding: “But my vendetta is against the insatiably greedy politicians.”

The senator further clarified that his determination to strike out the pork-barrel funds in the 2019 budget was “not about any individual congressman or senator,” but about his crusade against the pork-barrel system and the national budget “which is the lifeblood of the country.”

Lacson served notice he will “criticize those who go against his advocacy of keeping the budget free of pork” pointing out that the congressional pork barrel had been outlawed by the Supreme Court way back in 2013 but was still resurrected in different forms.

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