By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
With the House of Representatives already recalling their itemized version of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes that the congressional showdown on the national budget may soon come to a close.
Sotto on Thursday said the House’s move has opened the possibility of ending the budget stalemate and its transmittal to President Duterte.
“Perhaps what we could say is that the door is now open for a possible cure to the impasse. Baka pwede nang masunod ‘yong aming suggestions,” the Senate chief said during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum.
“Pwede nang magkasundo na ibalik sa original state kung anog napagkasunduan sa bicam (We can finally agree with reverting it to its original state that we approved during the bicam),” he added.
The Lower Chamber retrieved on Wednesday the draft 2019 budget from the Senate, shortly after House appropriations committee chair Rolando Andaya Jr. announced that they will withdraw the measure.
Sotto had refused to sign the House-submitted bill due to supposed post-ratification realignments by House leaders, which he argued was an unconstitutional and criminal act.
“The entire Senate supports the fact that we want the President to sign something that the Senate ratified — and the House of Representatives also ratified — which is faithful to what we agreed upon,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate leader said he hopes that the House will submit the ratified version of GAB to him by next week, so he could sign it for enrolment and submit for President Duterte’s signature.
Despite the recall, Andaya had maintained that there was nothing irregular with their itemizations in the spending bill.
Should the House insist on its realignments, Sotto said they have no choice but to let the government continue to operate on a reenacted budget until August.
Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, says they will meet their House counterparts on Monday, March 25, “and resolve the issue once and for all so the country can move forward.”
Legarda will be joined by Sens. Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan in the meeting.
Lacson also hoped that the House will stay true to its commitment of ending the budget impasse. He noted that unlike the House, the Senate has “always been consistent” with its position on the 2019 budget.
“With the propensity of Speaker Arroyo to say something and do the opposite, anything is possible…It’s their obligation to hold on to their word. They proposed again, they just have to do it,” Lacson said in a text message Thursday.
Sotto said he is confident that “the three will stick to what we approved and ratified.”
Lacson and Sotto had accused the House of realigning some P79 billion of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ proposed outlay to congressional districts after both chambers have ratified the GAB last month.
Sotto confirmed that the congressional bicameral panel indeed agreed on submitting the itemizations of budget amendments by the Senate and House of Representatives after their ratification.
But the amendments should only amount to P26 billion for the Senate, and P20 billion for the House, he said.
He added that the House “suddenly” transferred the DPWH funds to local infrastructure projects that were not identified by the agency.
This was “definitely” a deliberate attempt to realign allocations, Sotto said.