By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The House of Representatives finally gave in to the Senate’s position to withdraw its “itemized” version of the 2019 national budget.
Senator Panfilo Lacson bared this Monday supposedly after speaking to San Juan City Representative Ronaldo Zamora, who was tasked by House leaders to negotiate with the Upper Chamber regarding the impasse over the P3.757-trillion government spending plan for this year.
He said the Lower Chamber was set to recall Monday, March 18, the copy of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that contained their post-bicameral “itemizations”.
“Yesterday (Sunday), he gave me a call and said mayroon nang permiso o (there was already a permission or) approval ang (from the) House leadership na ire-recall nila today (Monday)…and then from there, we will move forward,” Lacson told reporters in an interview after the groundbreaking rites for the new Senate building in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
Last week, the House transmitted to the Senate copies of the revised GAB including its supposed enumerations of lump sum appropriations in the budget.
Senate President Vicente Sotto II refused to approve the document for enrolment to the Palace, prodding House leaders to take it back and retain the version ratified by both chambers of Congress. House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on the other hand, signed the bill.
Lacson said he told Zamora that the only “way forward” is for the House to withdraw their version, as the House-transmitted GAB would remain a “mere scrap of paper” without Sotto’s signature.
Senate chief to sign
Sotto said he has been informed about the House’s move, vowing to sign the 2019 budget once the ratified version is sent to him.
“We will wait for that action, and if it is submitted to us as ratified, I will immediately sign it and consider it an enrolled bill and send it to the President for signature,” the Senate chief told reporters in a separate interview.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also saw the same solution: that the House recall the revised GAB.
“I concur with the view of the Senate President that indeed, revising the budget after ratification of the bicam report is unconstitutional and cannot be done. Therefore, to break this deadlock, the House must concur to our position that what should be in the enrolled copy of the bill should be the General Appropriations Bill as spelled out in the bicam report ratified by the Senate. Any revision after that is unconstitutional and illegal,” he said.
With House leaders conceding, they, in effect, also agreed to the Senate’s proposal to let President Duterte exercise his approval and veto powers over the lump sum appropriations in the spending bill.
Lacson expressed confidence that the Chief Executive will reject alleged lump sum appropriations in the budget, which the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional in 2013.
On the part of the Senate, Sotto committed to ask President Duterte to call for a special session of Congress to pass a measure granting supplemental funds for the programs that might be rejected.
The appropriations for the vetoed items will remain in the government outlay anyway, he said.
“We may pass a supplemental budget appropriating [funds for] that vetoed part of the budget,” Sotto said.
The Senate leader also assured that congressional districts will get an “equitable” share of funds should Duterte veto their allocations.
He believed that passing a supplemental budget would be an “ideal move” to address the “‘debatable” provisions in the budget.
Sotto and Lacson earlier accused the House leadership of realigning — not itemizing — some P96 billion of the 2019 budget to districts of congressmen who supported Arroyo’s elections as House Speaker last year. Of the amount, P72 billion were allegedly drawn from the proposed budget of Department of Public Works and Highways this year.
On Monday, Lacson appealed to his colleagues to speed up discussions on the 2019 GAB.