Palace hopeful of 'smooth working relations' with House amid impassé

By Genalyn Kabiling

Malacañang is hopeful for the restoration of "smooth working relations" with the House of Representatives amid an impassé on the proposed 2019 national budget.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque speaks during a press briefing at the New Executive Building in Malacanang, Friday. (CAMILLE ANTE / MANILA BULLETIN) Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque maintained that President Duterte refuses to believe that the House would block his budget proposal, adding there was no "chorus of protest" from other lawmakers.

"I think he does not want to believe that the House actually will not act on his budget. As of now, I think he is giving Congress the benefit of the doubt. He does not actually want to accept that for the first time, Congress is not acting on his budget," Roque said during a Palace press briefing.

"We hope we can restore the usual smooth working relationship that we’ve had with Congress since the beginning of the 17th Congress, because we consider the House as an important ally in our discharge of official functions and I reiterate that we stand by the President’s budget for 2019," he said.

Roque admitted that the Palace has considered the Lower House an important ally but observed the "different kind of relationship" since a new leadership took over last month.

Roque said for the first time, the President’s budget proposal was unexpectedly "rejected in its entirety" by his allies in Congress. He added that it was up to these lawmakers to explain to the President why they were against the cash-based budgeting system.

"It’s really for the House to explain why there is all of a sudden an outright rejection of the President’s budget. This is not the Secretary’s budget. This is the President’s budget. So I think the President needs an explanation, very clear explanation on why people who may considers as his closest allies have rejected it outright," he said.

The House appropriations committee earlier suspended the budget hearings until further notice amid opposition to the shift to a cash-based budgeting system next year from a multi-year obligation-based scheme.

Some lawmakers reportedly complained that the cash-based budget system, that allows resources for projects that can be completed within the year, was confusing compared to the obligation-based scheme that allows funding up to two years.

With Congress rejecting the President's budget, Roque admitted that the Palace does not know "what ties we have with the House now."

"We’d like to think that they continue to be important allies of the President but apparently, the change of leadership has also brought in a different kind of relationship. How else do you explain, Congress refusing to act on the President’s budget?" he said.

Roque however made clear that the Palace was not blaming House Speaker Gloria Arroyo for the budget standoff, saying the former President has not made a statement about the matter.

He instead pointed out that House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and House appropriations committee chair Karlo Nograles were the ones who suspended the deliberations on the 2019 budget proposal.

Roque said the Palace respects the independence of Congress but reminded its allies about the concept of "political allies and political enemies.”

"The concept of majority is—or administration is, you want to support the administration. And parang when you reject the project outright, it’s not something you expect from an administration party," he said.

When informed later that Andaya claimed he would not allow a reenacted budget for 2019, Roque said they were "very happy" with such development. He maintained that they still prefer the passage of the 2019 national budget rather than a reenacted one.

"We don’t want also a reenacted budget. We want the constituents of the Republic to benefit from the project identified for the year 2019 by their duly elected representatives in Congress," he said.

He said Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno was expected to meet with Congress leaders handling the budget deliberations to try to resolve the budget deadlock. The annual cash-based budgeting has been promoted to speed up government's budget use and promote budget dipping.

"I have talked to the economic managers, we are sticking to cash-based, because it’s been implemented in 2018 and seems to have worked," Roque said.

If there would be a reenacted budget, Roque said they should expect a "long line of congressmen" at the Department of Budget and Management "because they will make sure their pet projects are implemented by the Executive."