Arroyo: House version of budget stays
The House of Representatives has not withdrawn its version of the 2019 budget, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said on Tuesday, refuting claims that her chamber has backed down in its monthlong standoff with the Senate.
“No, we have not withdrawn our version,” the former President told reporters.
But she acknowledged that the two chambers have started a new round of negotiations on the much-delayed national spending bill.
‘No lump sum’
Arroyo said the House would continue to insist that no lump-sum appropriations be retained in the budget, a major point of contention that the two houses of Congress have so far not resolved.
“We’re in discussions about what is the proposed new version,” she said in an interview at a forum in Taguig City.
“We will insist on no lump sum because that is what is unconstitutional. That’s what we will insist: No lump sum. Now, as to the details, that’s the one that we’ll see,” Arroyo said.
On Monday, the Speaker said she had assigned San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora to negotiate with the senators to break the stalemate between the Senate and the House over the P3.8-trillion budget.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the House “blinked” after Zamora promised to recall the House’s enrolled bill that it had submitted to Senate President VIcente Sotto III for signing.
Sotto has refused to sign the bill, which, according to the senators, contains unconstitutional amendments made by the House after ratification.
Sign of goodwill
Zamora said his offer was only a sign of goodwill to start off discussions.
But the House appropriations committee chair, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., said no congressman had the authority to recall any enrolled bill without plenary approval.
The House and the Senate separately ratified the General Appropriations Bill of 2019 on Feb. 8, but the measure has not been transmitted to Malacañang because of differences between the two chambers over the last-minute changes made by the House.
The Senate leadership insists on only the untouched version agreed upon by both chambers, arguing that the House made unlawful postratification amendments, including realignment of funding for public works and health centers.
The House denies making unlawful alterations to the bill, saying the changes are just an itemization of lump-sum appropriations.
No copy of the enrolled bill is available publicly as neither chamber has released it to the press pending its signing into law.
No deal, no budget bill
Arroyo warned that no budget bill would be transmitted to the President unless the two chambers reached a compromise.
“If we don’t come to an agreement and then Tito Sotto does not sign the bill, then there’s no bill to send to the President. So I do not know if we will but I would wish we would,” she said.
“So be it,” Sotto said when told by reporters about Arroyo’s remarks.
He reiterated that he would sign the budget bill only if it was the original document that Congress ratified on Feb. 8.
“We stand firm on what we have already said and what we have decided,” Sotto said.
“We cannot agree to something that is violative of Article 170 of the Revised Penal Code, which is falsification of legislative documents. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Sotto appeared uninterested in another meeting with the House leaders, but he said he would still allow Lacson to go into backdoor talks with the congressmen to break the impasse.
He said he was confused at the conflicting statements of Arroyo and Zamora, surmising that there was an internal problem in the House.
“We will just wait for them to make up their minds. Otherwise, we can wait until June 30, he said, adding: “If they do not withdraw and revert to the ratified version, then it’s going to be in August for sure.”
Told that Arroyo was insisting that there should be no lump-sum allocations in the budget, Sotto replied: “Then why did they ratify [the spending bill]? They should have raised that during the [conference] committee hearings.”
“That’s the central issue,” Sotto said, referring to the arbitrary decision of the congressmen to allocate P95.1 billion in infrastructure funds to selected congressional districts.
Sought for comment, Lacson said it was now up to the House to resolve internal differences and break the budget deadlock.
“Whatever. The ball is in their hands. They proposed, we accepted,” he told the Inquirer in a text message.
“If they [are] indeed [withdrawing] from the agreement to recall their enrolled bill, we [will just] wait for the next [House] leadership,” he said.
In a tweet on Monday night, Lacson said: “Just when the stalemate between the Senate and the House is about to end, there is now a budget impasse within the House. Blame it on the dizzying pork.”
Lacson said Zamora told him on Monday that he had already cleared the matter with Andaya and that the House would still withdraw its version of the budget bill.
“The withdrawal [of the House] is still a go after [Zamora] explained to [Andaya] that there is no need for a plenary approval since the enrolled bill is simply a draft,” the senator said.
Malacañang said there was still a chance to break the stalemate.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters that Arroyo was planning to meet with the senators on Tuesday.
“We can make a statement after [Tuesday] because they will be meeting,” Panelo said.
The Duterte administration is operating on a reenacted 2018 budget as a result of the congressional deadlock.
The budget delay has forced the administration’s economic managers to roll back their growth projection this year to 6-7 percent from 7-8 percent. —With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Maila Ager
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