The Palace on Tuesday expressed optimism that the impasse over the 2019 national budget would be broken as congressional leaders meet with President Rodrigo Duterte Tuesday night to thresh out their differences.
In a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President would act as a “moderator” between the Senate and the House of Representatives after both sides took to media to attack the other over their differences on the proposed P3.8-trillion budget for 2019.
“I understand they will be having a meeting tonight, maybe that’s the agenda where they have to thresh out whatever differences they have,” Panelo said.
“Right now, there is a controversy between the House and the Senate—the Senate claims that the itemization of the P79-billion funds is unconstitutional, but the House claims that it is not. So, let us see,” he said.
He said the President would listen and “let the protagonists settle among themselves.”
“As I said, he will become a moderator, he will just listen. I’m just speculating, he may have brought the two together just so they can talk and discuss,” he said.
Although he will not be present during the meeting, Panelo said the President will make sure that leaders of the Congress will iron out the conflict over the budget.
“Yes, of course. The goal of all branches of government is to unite [for] the welfare of the people,” he said.
Bickering over the budget has already delayed its passage, forcing the government to operate on a re-enacted budget. The latest impasse threatened to extend the delay up to August.
Asked if the budget could be signed into law soon, Panelo said: “We hope for the best.”
The meeting with the lawmakers was set after the President said he would not sign “anything illegal” in the proposed budget.
In his speech in Malacañang on Monday evening, Duterte talked about the misunderstanding between the House and Senate leadership.
“They are debating right now on the budget. I told them, ‘I said my piece: I will not sign anything that would be an illegal document’,” Duterte said during the awarding ceremony of 10 outstanding women in the field of country’s law enforcement and national security.
“We will have a slide in the GDP [gross domestic product] if we are going to reenact the budget. And everybody will suffer including law enforcement. It will decrease our GDP,” he said.
“You all know I don’t have any money to move on. It’s an everyday income that we expect. That’s why they are debating about it,” he added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it was the President, through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who called for a meeting to discuss the budget.
Medialdea had previously said the President was “dismayed” over the lawmakers’ inability to pass the 2019 national budget.
The government is operating under a reenacted budget after lawmakers failed to approve the P3.7-trillion spending plan before their Christmas break due to supposed insertions. The Palace had already hoped that the government will not run on a reenacted budget until August this year, citing its negative effects on the country.
Both chambers of the Congress are still quarreling over the last-minute amendments done by the House on the proposed budget after the bicameral conference committee approved it.
In an interview with radio dzBB, Sotto said he will ask finance committee chairperson Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Panfilo Lacson, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and the chief of the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office to join him.
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and House committee on appropriations chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. were expected to attend as well.
Earlier, the minority bloc in the House of Representatives urged the Senate to itemize its lump sum. The bloc’s leader, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez also said House leaders had made “no amendment,
modification, nor realignment” to the proposed budget.
“Let us be clear. There was no amendment, modification nor realignment to the proposed national budget. The Lower House merely specified projects and programs that shall be funded, as urgently requested by local government units—barangays, municipalities, cities,” Suarez said.
He also warned Lacson against “peddling unfounded accusations against the House of Representatives.”
Lacson, on the other hand, said he hoped the House would not insist on a constitutionally infirm budget.
“I would like to think positive—that those concerned will be enlightened,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the Tuesday night meeting was a good opportunity to resolve whatever differences there are pertaining to the 2019 budget since Arroyo is also attending that dinner meeting.
“We won’t be there to quarrel but to resolve the issues surrounding the budget. SP [Senate President], Senator Legarda, and I will stick to the issue at hand,” he said.
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