The House of Representatives through its Office of Secretary-General on Wednesday “physically retrieved” the books containing the items that congressmen had sent to the senators in a bid to put an end to the budget impasse.
“This is in line with the Speaker’s instruction to allow a last-ditch effort to break the budget impasse,” Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr., appropriations committee chairman, said.
This developed as Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, leader of the House independent bloc, defended the 2019 general appropriations bill that was submitted to the Senate as “completely constitutional and legal.”
“I will not support any House action or measure which violates the Constitution and relevant statutes, and the House version is free from any constitutional or legal infirmities,” Lagman, former chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said in a statement.
Acting House Secretary General Dante Roberto went to the Senate Wednesday afternoon to get the budget documents upon instruction from the House leadership.
Andaya said Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has also instructed leaders to form a three-man House team that will meet with their Senate counterparts to address contentious issues on the 2019 general appropriations bill.
“We are giving ourselves five days to complete this task,” Andaya said.
But Andaya said “retrieving” does not mean that House has “withdrawn” the 2019 general appropriations bill.
“We want to make it clear, though. We are not withdrawing or backtracking from our earlier position. We maintain that the House did nothing unconstitutional, illegal or irregular when we approved and ratified the 2019 GAB in plenary session,” Andaya said.
“We hope that the contingents from the Senate and the House can agree to a common venue for a formal discussion on the issues and not debate on the merits of their position through the media,” Andaya added.
This developed as Lagman said the House version of the money measure “is entirely compliant with the ratified bicameral conference committee report.”
“As a former chairman of the committee on appropriations, I know that traditionally and invariably what the bicameral conference committee approves are the respective expenditure ceilings of the departments and agencies, but the Senate and the House are authorized separately to complete the details within the ceilings,” Lagman said.
“The House version did not breach the approved ceilings,” he added.
House Majority Floor Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said he hoped Lagman’s support would convince the senators that the House was standing on firm constitutional and legal grounds.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, denied allegations that his expose on pork insertions in the 2019 budget was triggered by his vendetta against Arroyo, whose administration had ordered his arrest in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case.
Lacson went into hiding and returned to the country only after the end of the Arroyo administration.
Lacson said his actions against pork barrel in the 2019 budget are not about any individual congressman or senator, but about his crusade against the pork barrel system in the national budget, which is the lifeblood of the country.
Lacson accused the House of inserting changes into the budget after the bicameral conference committee approved it, but House leaders said they merely itemized the use of lump sum funds.
They added that leaving a lump sum fund in the budget would violate the Supreme Court ruling on pork barrel.
House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez on Wednesday said that majority of senators led by Senate committee on finance chairperson Loren Legarda are supportive of giving President Rodrigo Duterte a new national expenditure program (NEP) instead of having the government operate under a re-enacted budget.
At a news conference, Suarez said Legarda relayed to him that many senators from the the so-called “silent majority” bloc objected to the desire of Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Lacson not to itemize allocations in the budget.
“I talked to Sen. Loren two days ago, as a matter of fact I am going to see her tomorrow (Thursday). She assured me that she would want the enrolled budget measure to reach the President as this is the common sentiment of the majority of senators,” Suarez said.
Deputy Minority Leader and Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin said Sotto’s duty as Senate president to sign the national budget is only ministerial.
“Both Houses of Congress have ratified the national budget so it is only ministerial on their [Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sotto] part to sign the enroll bill and transmit it to the President,” Garbin said.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said he could not think of any cogent reason why Lacson has been pushing a lump sum budget when this was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Atienza also said it is unfair to accuse the House of any irregularities.
“If the Senate allocates funds, they [senators] called it an institutional amendment. But if the House is the one which allocates money for a specific project, they call it pork barrel,” Atienza said.
Arroyo earlier said the House has done its part to push for a constitutionally sound budget and that it was up to the senate to act if they want the budget bill signed into law by President Duterte.
Arroyo maintained the House ratified a legal and valid national budget by itemizing the lump sum funds.
Arroyo also said the House has not withdrawn its version of the 2019 budget, reiterating that the lump sum appropriations favored by senators are unconstitutional.
The former president said she will meet with San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and other House members later in the day to discuss the issue.
Zamora was tasked by the House to negotiate with the Senate to break the budget impasse that has forced the government to operate under a reenacted budget for three months now.
Despite the budget impasse, President Duterte has signed Executive Order No. 76 directing the Budget department to find and recommend a measure to fsnd the pending fourth tranche of salary increase for state workers. “The President does not want to prolong the overdue salary increase that our public servants, who have been working tirelessly and silently for the last two months, have been looking forward to,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.