House ‘physicially retrieves’ budget, sets up more talks with Senate

By Ellson Quismorio

The House of Representatives has moved to “physically retrieve” the budget books that it sent to the Senate, Appropriations Committee chairman, Camarines Sur 1st district Rep. Rolando Andaya confirmed in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“The House leadership has dispatched the Secretary General (Dante 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 (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) instruction to allow a last-ditch effort to break the budget impasse,” he said.

Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., Chairman of House Appropriations Committee (MARK BALMORES / MANILA BULLETIN)
Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., Chairman of House Appropriations Committee (MARK BALMORES / MANILA BULLETIN)

The budget books represent the copy of the P3.757-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2019 that the House submitted last week in hopes of prodding the Senate to sign the measure in preparation for President Rodrigo Duterte’s own signature.

Andaya, who has been the voice of the House in its ongoing squabble with the Upper Chamber on the much-delayed passage of the budget law, was quick to point out that the retrieval of the books was not a “withdrawal” of the 2019 GAB, although some observers could undoubtedly give that interpretation.

“We want to make it clear, though. We are not withdrawing or backtracking from our earlier position. We maintain that the House did nothing unconstitutional, illegal or irregular when we approved and ratified the 2019 GAB in plenary session,” the House leader said.

It was also learned from Andaya that Speaker Arroyo had tasked them to form a three-man House team that will meet with their Senate counterparts to address contentious issues of the budget measure. “We are giving ourselves five days to complete this task,” he said.

Opposition congressman, Albay 1st district Edcel Lagman, San Juan City lone district Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and Andaya will reportedly comprise the three-man House panel.

“We 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,” added Andaya, a former Majority Floor Leader.

Contained in the budget books are the House’s itemization of billions worth of lump-sum realignments for Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) projects in the lawmakers’ respective districts.

The itemization, which the Lower Chamber painstakingly accomplished after the ratification of the GAB on February 8, had been opposed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and anti-pork barrel crusader Senator Panfilo Lacson due to alleged unconstitutionality.

This hardline rejection from Sotto and Lacson was enough to stall the enactment of the new budget law, forcing the Philippine government to recycle the 2018 national budget since January.

Curiously, Lacson claimed as early as Monday that the House had recalled the budget, something that he supposedly learned from Zamora via phone conversation over the weekend.

Speaker and former president Arroyo denied the withdrawal of the budget the following day.