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BREAKING IMPASSE

House leaders to recall its version of budget – Lacson

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Sen. Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER.NET PHOTO/CATHY MIRANDA

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies have decided to recall the House version of the 2019 budget to clear the way for negotiations with the Senate that could end the three-month impasse over the spending bill, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday.

Speaking to reporters in Taguig City, Lacson said San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora called him on Sunday and told him that Arroyo had directed him to negotiate with the senators.

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Lacson said Zamora informed him of Arroyo’s decision to honor the final version of the appropriations bill that Congress ratified on Feb. 8.

He said Zamora assured him that the House leadership would withdraw on Monday the budget document that Arroyo had signed and sent to the Senate for the concurrence of Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

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Only way to move forward

“I told [Zamora] there’s no other way [to move forward] except for the House to recall or withdraw [their] version of the enrolled bill,” Lacson said.

He said it remained to be seen whether the House would really withdraw its version of the spending bill, but that he told Zamora that taking it back would be “a good first move.”

“From there, that’s the way forward,” Lacson said.

“I have no reason to doubt the words of Zamora because he was given that trust since we are friends,” he said.

“If they do not [do what Zamora told me], we don’t have an enrolled bill and we don’t have any national budget until August, when the leadership of the House changes,” he added.

In a television interview on Monday, Zamora confirmed that he had expressed to the Senate the House’s willingness to withdraw the enrolled bill, which Senate leaders had said was riddled with unlawful realignments that were made after ratification.

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House didn’t blink

Zamora, however, said the House did not blink.

“Basically, they wanted a sign of good faith in order to continue discussing,” he said.

Breaking her silence on the deadlock between the Senate and the House, Arroyo on Monday confirmed that she had directed Zamora to negotiate with the senators.

Arroyo, however, did not say what concessions the House was willing to make to allow the budget to go through.

But she insisted that the changes the House made to the budget bill after its ratification by Congress were legal and aboveboard.

“[What] we can say is that the process that we followed was constitutional,” Arroyo told reporters.

“It’s the same process that was done even before I was Speaker ever since the Supreme Court ruled that lump sums are unconstitutional. We cannot agree to a lump-sum allocation,” she said.

“We would never put the President in a position of signing an unconstitutional bill,” she said.

Duterte veto

President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to veto the budget if it turns out to be illegal.

The House and the Senate separately ratified the budget bill on Feb. 8, but the measure remained untransmitted to Malacañang because of differences between the two chambers over the postratification changes made by the House.

The Senate leadership is insisting on the untouched version agreed upon by both chambers, arguing that changes made by the House after ratification, including realignment of funds for public works and health centers, are illegal.

Sotto, who has refused to sign the House enrolled bill because of the postratification changes, welcomed the breakthrough.

“We will wait for that action and if it is submitted to us as [the] ratified [spending bill], I will immediately sign it and consider it an enrolled bill and send it to the President for his signature,” Sotto said on Monday.

Out of the loop?

But the House leaders did not appear united on making the first move to break the deadlock.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., the appropriations committee chair who is staunchly defending the alterations to the budget bill, on Monday questioned the deal for the withdrawal of the House version of the measure.

“No congressman has the authority, without plenary approval, to order the recall of the enrolled form of any bill already transmitted to the Senate,” Andaya said in a statement.

“The 2019 GAB (General Appropriations Bill) was approved in plenary at the House of Representatives. The ratification of the bicameral conference report on the national budget was also made in plenary. Recall of the 2019 GAB must also be done in plenary session, with majority members of the House in approval,” he said.

Andaya said that not even he, as appropriations panel chair, could undo what had been authorized in plenary.

“I am just one out of the 290. My powers come from them. A few senators cannot overturn an institutional act,” he said.

Told about Andaya’s remarks, Lacson said it was a problem that the House leaders should resolve.

“I’ve known Zamora for a long time and I have no reason to doubt or question the truthfulness of his proposition,” Lacson said.

“Whatever the issue, there is a simple answer to a simple question: Are they withdrawing their version of the ‘draft enrolled bill’ or not?” he said.

Malacañang thought the lawmakers had solved the problem.

“We welcome that they finally settled their differences so we hope that they would be submitting the enrolled bill, and for the President to go over it and sign it if it conforms with the Constitution,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Lacson said it was up to President Duterte to veto the lump-sum allocations in the final version of the budget.

Special session

To deal with the concerns of congressmen about the budget for their districts, Lacson said, the President may ask Congress to hold a special session to discuss how the lawmakers would allot the vetoed funds.

Lacson said the items to be vetoed might include P95.1 billion in infrastructure funds that were originally earmarked for the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Health but realigned by Arroyo and her allies to their districts. —WITH A REPORT FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO

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TAGS: 2019 national budget, budget insertions, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Panfilo Lacson, pork insertions
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