All is well amid House budget brouhaha, says solon

By Ellson Quismorio

The vice chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee insisted that all is well between the panel and the House leadership amid the delayed start of the plenary debates on the 2019 national budget.

The Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN) (MANILA BULLETIN)

"There's no issue, it was blown out of proportion," said Nueva Ecija 4th district Rep. Magnolia Antonino on the sidelines of the debates, which finally began in earnest Wednesday morning.

Antonino took part Tuesday in a dinner held at the Speaker's Social Hall at the House of Representatives which was attended by Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. and Appropriations panel chairman Davao City 1st district Rep. Karlo Nograles, among others.

The dinner was hosted by former president Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Earlier during that evening's plenary session, Andaya convened a Committee of the Whole which introduced amendments--basically the realignment of some P55 billion worth of allocated funds described by some as "pork"--to House Bill (HB) No.8169 or the P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.

Andaya's move basically rendered useless the committee report submitted by Nograles after weeks of per-agency hearings and pre-plenary hearings on the proposed budget.

One of the photos of the dinner released by the Speaker's office showed Andaya and Nograles chatting on one side and shaking hands. Others pictures were group-shots of the dinner-goers, smiling.

"All is well naman, it's business as usual," Antonino said when asked to comment on the Andaya and Nograles photo. "There's no issue."

As per the Nueva Ecija solon, dinners like the one Tuesday were normal and open to all House members. "The Speaker always holds dinners and everybody can come."

Sources said the dinner was held to soothe things over between the majority leader and the appropriations chairman, who allegedly butted heads Monday morning over how the budget deliberations should proceed amid the questioned P55-billion allocation.

The budget debates were supposed to begin that same day but were stalled for two days.

Wednesday morning saw the sponsoring on the floor of HB No.8169 by Compostela Valley 1st district Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, a job traditionally reserved to Nograles being the head of the appropriations panel.

"Cong. Zamora is a senior vice chair ...I don't know if there's a special reason ," Antonino said, seemingly brushing off Nograles's absence on the floor during the proceedings as nothing to fuss about.

The order of business (OB) for the day listed Andaya as the sponsor of the bill.

Nograles said Monday afternoon that the national budget next year could still be approved on time even given a few days' delay.

"We can live with those delays. We're still on track," he said.