By Vanne Terrazola
The congressional row on the P3.757-trillion proposed budget for this year is nearing its end as senators and congressmen agreed to have the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) signed into law.
This was according to House appropriations committee chairman and Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya Jr. after their meeting with senators Monday to resolve the impasse on the government spending program.
“Unang-una pinagkasunduan ay magkaroon ng bagong budget (Our first agreement is to have a new budget),” Andaya told reporters.
Present in the meeting were Senators Loren Legarda, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan, San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Andaya.
Members of the executive branch, led by Department of Budget and Management (DBM), were also in attendance.
Lacson said they made “some progress”, while Andaya called it a “major step” towards ending the budget deadlock.
The three-man panel from the Senate and House, however, agreed to meet anew on Tuesday night to discuss the more contentious issues in the GAB.
The three-hour meeting only revolved the respective positions of the two Congress chambers on the spending bill.
“Na-explain na namin yong panig ng House. na-explain na rin ng Senado ‘yong kanilang side (We have already explained the position of the House. The Senate, too, explained it their side),” Andaya said.
“We just needed place to explain to each other. May punto sila, may punto din naman kami (They had a point, so do us),” he added.
Andaya said President Duterte was correct in urging the two chambers to talk and settle the budget row between themselves, as he noted that they only have been able to hear their counterpart’s views thru the media.
The lawmakers, however, opted to discuss their dispute over the itemizations and supposed realignments made to the GAB after its ratification.
Andaya maintained that the itemizations should remain, as removing it will render the budget bill unconstitutional.
“All of the items, both from the Senate and House, it necessarily have to appear in the budget. It should not be a lump sum [appropriation],” he added.
Andaya believed the Senate accepted their move, “just as their explanation was also very acceptable to us.”
“We understood that both we did are within the bounds of what we had to do.The Senate had to do its job, we had to do [our] job,” he said.
He said he was very positive that they would come to an agreement.
“The very fact that we have another meeting tomorrow, that speaks a lot… We are in the closing stages, finishing stages of our discussion,” Andaya said.
“Hopefully tomorrow, we can get there.”
Andaya said they aim to transmit the GAB to President Duterte before March 29, as consulted with the DBM.