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House, Senate try again to end budget impasse

Negotiators from the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to meet Monday to break the deadlock over the proposed 2019 national budget, Senator Loren Legarda said Thursday.

“We hope to meet on Monday and resolve the issue once and for all so the country can move forward,” Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said.

She said she will be joined by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan II.

The House of Representatives has “physically retrieved” its version of the proposed 2019 national budget from the Senate, which had objected to changes made after the bicameral conference committee had already approved the budget.

The House, on the other hand, said there was nothing unusual or wrong about itemizing lump sum allocations, saying not to do so would violate the Supreme Court ruling on pork barrel.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. said the retrieval of the budget document was in line with Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s instruction to allow a last-ditch effort to break the impasse.

Andaya, however, clarified that the House is not withdrawing its draft or backtracking on its position.

“We maintain that the House did nothing unconstitutional, illegal, or irregular when we approved and ratified the 2019 GAB [general appropriations bill] in plenary session,” Andaya said.

Andaya said the Speaker ordered the formation of a three-man House team that would meet with their Senate counterparts to address the budget issue within five days.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who has refused to sign the bill sent by the House, said “a door was open” but remained firm that the changes introduced after the bicameral conference committee had ratified the budge were unconstitutional.

He maintained that line items in the budget, described by Lacson as pork barrel, were in violation of the Revised Penal Code since they were done after the national budget was ratified during a bicameral conference.

If the House would agree to Lacson’s proposal to revert to the budget approved in bicameral conference, Sotto said, a new spending plan would be ready for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature by next week.

But if the House insists on its version, then the government might have to operate on the reenacted 2018 budget until August, Sotto said.

“The ball is not in our hands,” he said. “All they have to do is submit what we agreed upon in bicam and ratified and we’ll have no problem at all,” he added.

But Andaya took a similar stand, saying if the impasse cannot be broken in five days, he would recommend a reenacted budget, too.

Andaya said he, Zamora and Edcel Lagman of Albay have five days to talk with their Senate counterparts to finally resolve the budget conflict.

“We are given five days and the Senate counterparts to resolve the impasse. If both parties have failed to resolve the matter, I myself will recommend to the President that we operate under a reenacted budget so as to push forward the administration’s projects,” said Andaya.

Andaya said the House followed a legal and constitutional process in itemizing the lump sum funds.

He added that the government should take advantage of the good weather to implement various important infrastructure projects.

He also insisted that the House would not agree to the Senate’s stand to leave lump sum allocations in place, saying the Supreme Court has ruled against such allocations.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said President Rodrigo Duterte would no longer help in breaking the impasse.

“The President is not making any move. His last statement was solved it on your own,” Panelo said in a press briefing.

“If national interest is a concern, then I suppose every member of Congress knows that and they have to respond to the needs of the times,” Panelo told Malacañang reporters.

The Palace has consistently warned that running on a reenacted budget would delay key administration programs and projects.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the delay in the passage of the 2019 budget was already hurting the economy.

On March 12, President Duterte met with congressional leaders in Malacanang in a bid to address the issues stalling the budget, but the meeting ended with no consensus.

Panelo said lawmakers should now learn that their personal issues should come second to the welfare of the people.

“Well they should always look at the interest of the people as the primary objective not personal differences with members of each house,” Panelo said.

Last week, President Duterte said that he will not sign anything that will be deemed illegal as both houses of Congress continued to argue about the proposed 2019 national budget.

Lacson earlier alleged that Arroyo directed the realignments of P25 million from the Department of Health to her favored congressmen.

Sotto added that the House allegedly realigned some P79 billion in the ratified budget.

Arroyo and House officials have denied any wrongdoing, saying that itemizing lump sums is part of the budget process. With Vito Barcelo and PNA

READ: House retrieves budget version to break impasse

Topics: House of Representatives , Senate , Loren Legarda , Panfilo Lacson , Gregorio Honasan II
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