Senators, congressmen meet to settle 2019 budget impasse

Published March 25, 2019, 12:27 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola and Ben Rosario

Senators and congressmen met anew on Monday to settle the impasse on the P3.757-trillion proposed 2019 budget.


Senators Loren Legarda, Panfilo Lacson, and Gregorio Honasan were still meeting with Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya, San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman as of press time Monday.

Members of the executive branch, led by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Act­ing Secretary Janet Abuel, were also present.

The meeting was called after the Lower Chamber recalled last week the draft 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) from the Senate due to Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s refusal to sign it for enrolment to the Palace.

House Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had instructed them to observe “four guideposts for the negotiations.”

“They have to ensure that the 2019 GAA will not only be constitutional and legal, but must pass the test of transparency and accountability,” said Castro. The House leadership appointed the three “veteran con­gressmen who are lawyers” in a last-ditch attempt to break the budget deadlock.

Arroyo said there was no time pressure for the House and the Sen­ate panels to reach an agreement on the discord over the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act.

But breaking the 2019 budget im­passe will depend on when Senate is ready to “dance the tango” with the three-man panel sent by the House of Representatives.

“It takes two to tango. How can we have a time limit,” said Arroyo. “But as soon as possible, it’s what we like, but we cannot put a deadline on the Senate,” she answered when asked by reporters when she expects the measure to be sent to Malacañang for President Duterte’s signature.

Nevertheless, Arroyo remained optimistic that the Senate and House panels will be able to iron out differ­ences over certain provisions in the P3.757-trillion budget bill.

Prior to the Monday meeting, An­daya said they hope to “come up with an understanding” so that the GAB may finally be signed by President Duterte. He agreed the stalemate was caused by miscommunication be­tween the two houses of Congress.

“We want to hurry it up and hope­fully, before the 29th [of March] mag­karoon na ng budget (we’ll have a new budget),” the House appropriations chairman told reporters.

He stressed the importance of enacting the GAB immediately so that the government could take advantage of the “good weather window” to implement infrastructure projects.

On the part of the Senate, it was firm on its position to revert to the version ratified by both houses last month, following the claim of Lacson and Sotto that House leaders made post-bicameral realignments worth P79 billion before transmitting the final GAB last week.

But Andaya maintained that their itemizations were agreed upon in the bicameral committee. He also denied allegations that they amended the ratified GAB.

“Let me [clarify] it. Walang amend­ment na ginawa. Everything that was printed was within the ratified version. There’s no other version to talk about, walang ibang version na pinag-uusapan. That’s why we have to talk about it and explain what it really contains,” he told Senate reporters.

Sotto last Thursday confirmed that the congressional bicameral panel agreed on submitting the itemizations of budget amendments by the Senate and House after their ratification.

He said the amendments should only amount to P26 billion for the Sen­ate, and P20 billion for the House, but congressmen “suddenly” transferred the DPWH funds to local infrastruc­ture projects that were not identified by the agency.