A meeting Tuesday night at the Palace failed to break a budget impasse between the Senate and the House of Representatives, sparking an appeal from the executive department for Congress to settle their differences and pass an appropriations law that would better the lives of Filipinos.
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Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that on Tuesday night, President Rodrigo Duterte had told him he would not sign a bill that the senator did not.
Sotto said it seemed that the House “appeared to have acquiesced” to Senator Panfilo Lacson’s proposal to revert to the ratified version of the budget bill, but said there was no confirmation of this.
House leaders on Wednesday did not address the events of Tuesday’s meeting but reverted to attacking the Senate and Lacson again.
“The President wanted to resolve the impasse. He opened the dialogue by saying he will not sign the budget if I do not sign it,” Sotto told reporters in a group message.
“After some words from both sides, Senator Lacson suggested that the House recall the enrolled copy they sent and revert back to the bicam report that both houses approved. The President and members of the executive department concurred,” Sotto added.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the President asked lawmakers to pass the budget “so that the programs of government can continue.”
Zubiri said the Senate proposal was just to pass the ratified version of the 2019 budget, while the House insisted on the line-by-line itemization and not lump sum appropriations.
“We still met while the President had left but there’s still no consensus, unfortunately,” Zubiri said.
Present during the meeting were Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senator Gregorio Honasan.
The House contingent included Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, House appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya, and House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro.
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The government has been operating on a reenacted budget since Jan. 1 after lawmakers failed to pass the bill last year due to allegations of pork barrel insertions.
The passage of the 2019 budget was further stalled due to allegations of last-minute amendments made by the House after both chambers of Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report.
In a statement Wednesday, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Palace is aware of the budget impasse due to some constitutional questions raised by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Even so, Panelo said, the President would not meddle with the affairs of a co-equal branch of government.
“Only Congress can resolve and break this impasse,” Panelo said.
“We call on the senators and representatives to break the stalemate and deliver to the Filipino people an appropriations law that can aid this government better their lives and help our country move forward,” he added.
Panelo said the executive branch has already fulfilled its constitutional duty to submit the proposed budget on time. It now waits for “Congress to comply with its constitutional mandate to pass the same.”
“As soon as the enrolled bill on the budget is submitted to the President, the latter will perform his constitutional duty to scrutinize it and if he finds it in conformity with the constitutional demands, he will sign it,” he said.
The Office of the President has yet to receive a copy of an enrolled budget bill despite the approval of the measure by the bicameral conferee committee last month.
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 its version.
The National Economic and Development Authority warned Wednesday that a reenacted budget in 2019 could pull down gross domestic product growth to 4.2 percent, the slowest rate since 2011 when growth settled at 3.7 percent.
Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said estimates by NEDA showed that a reenacted budget until April 2019 would bring down full-year GDP growth to 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent.
“On the other hand, if the budget is passed in August, expect growth to be around only 4.9 to 5.1 percent. Worse, with a full-year reenacted budget, growth can go as low as 4.2 to 4.9 percent,” Pernia said in a statement.
The government is operating on the 2018 national budget of P3.767 trillion, as the Senate and the House failed to reach a consensus on the 2019 budget.
Pernia said that aside from the slower economic expansion, a reenacted budget would delay new and ongoing infrastructure projects and the implementation of public social services such as the unconditional cash transfer and Pantawid Pasada programs.
“The government would not be able to quickly execute programs and projects. This means that we will miss the opportunity to create as many as 180,000 to 240,000 more jobs and fail to lift as much as 400,000 to 550,000 more Filipinos out of poverty this year,” he said.
Lacson again attacked the House for inserting pork into the budget.
“[The] bottom line is pork, pork, pork. That’s all,” Lacson told reporters Wednesday.
He disclosed that some congressmen tried to force realignments into the budget because their terms are about to end.
Lacson also disputed a claim by Castro that the senator’s proposal leave lump sums in the ratified budget did not sit well with Duterte because “he does not want to be involved in allocating projects.”
“Not true. Instead, my suggestion didn’t sit well with the congressmen,” Lacson said in a statement.
“Executive Secretary [Salvador] Medialdea and Finance Secretary [Carlos] Dominguez [III] in fact favorably endorsed my suggestion to President Rodrigo Duterte as a practical and logical approach to break the impasse,” he added.
He said he informed the President that the P72-billion cut in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways that the House supported would hurt the government’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.
“What was obvious last night is that the suggestion didn’t sit well with the congressmen because they cannot be sure if all their realignments will be adopted,” Lacson said.
“It’s all about their pork, not mindful if they will be derailing the flagship projects of the government,” he added.
Castro earlier said the House had reservations in retaining the lump sum appropriations in the bicameral conference report of the 2019 budget, as this would be “unconstitutional.”
Sotto, on the other hand, said Arroyo could be charged for signing a “falsified” version of the national budget, since that was not the version the bicameral conference committee had approved.
He noted that the printed copy of the modified appropriation measure was signed by Arroyo and transmitted to the Senate for signature.
But Lacson said they advised Sotto III against signing the House version of the budget bill.
“They should not force us to violate the Constitution,” he said.
The senator pointed out that the modified House version was different from the budget bill that was ratified by the Senate and the House on Feb. 8.
Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay on Wednesday defended Arroyo from Lacson’s latest tirade against the former president, calling it “an act of desperation.”
“The statement made today by Senator Ping Lacson that she may be held liable for falsification for signing the 2019 budget is an act of desperation arising from his deep-rooted anger toward Speaker GMA,” Pichay said in a statement.
Pichay said that Lacson—because of his anger towards Arroyo—may have forgotten that the House of Representatives, just like the Senate, is a collegial body.
“Any act of the Speaker especially in the signing of bills and other forms of legislation is an act of the House of Representatives as a whole. If she is liable, then majority of the members are equally liable because we authorized her to do it. Why is Senator Lacson singling her out?” Pichay said.
He also accused Lacson of delaying the enactment of 2019 budget because Lacson’s “personal vendetta” against the Arroyo.
“Senator Ping, stop playing the Supreme Court by saying the budget is unconstitutional because it is only the Supreme Court that can make such [a] pronouncement. If you believe it is unconstitutional, then file a case and question it. It is only when the Supreme Court declares it to be unconstitutional that it is unconstitutional.
“Senator Ping, for the sake of the country and for the sake of President Duterte who had called upon Congress to act on it swiftly otherwise the economy and the welfare of the Filipino people
will suffer, you set aside your rage with the Speaker,” Pichay said.
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