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Palace urged to break budget impasse; House recalls version

Malacañang should intervene anew to break the budget impasse and ask the House of Representatives to revert to the original version of the P3.8-trillion 2019 spending bill approved by the conference committee, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Wednesday.

Zubiri appealed to the Palace to call another meeting with the leaders of the Senate and the House for the sake of the economy, which, he said, was in danger of shrinking, and the job order workers in the government who have not received their wages since January because of the absence of a new budget.

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“I will appeal to Malacañang to exert pressure on my colleagues in the House of Representatives to just return to the version approved by the Senate and the House last month,” he told reporters.

This is one scenario, he said, to ensure the passage of the 2019 budget.

Another possible compromise he sees is for the Senate to approve the “irregular” version made by the House after the ratification of the conference report, but only with the President’s guarantee that he would veto the postratification changes made by the House.

“We have to have a guarantee because if you don’t veto those provisions, somebody could question [them]. And I know Sen. [Panfilo] Lacson will question this in the Supreme Court,” he said.

Not backtracking

While maintaining the House was not backtracking on its position, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday ordered the withdrawal of its version of the budget bill in a “last-ditch effort” to break the impasse.

Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chair of the appropriations committee, said a three-member team had also been formed to meet with the senators for a discussion of contentious issues in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

But he emphasized that the House leadership was standing by its original position to itemize lump sums in the spending bill.

“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.

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Budget held hostage

President Duterte earlier met with Senate and House leaders to discuss their differences over the measure, but he failed to broker an agreement.

The Palace has to be involved in the issue, Zubiri said.

“This is the President’s budget. His budget is [being] held hostage,” he said.

Andaya said Arroyo issued the instructions to retrieve the budget books from the Senate.

The House negotiating team is composed of Andaya, San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

It was Lacson who first exposed the changes to the budget made by the House, which explained that it only itemized lump sum amounts.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III has refused to sign the budget bill that deviated from the ratified conference report.

Zubiri said the delay in the budget’s approval would cause the economy to shrink by 0.5 percent. If the country operates on a reenacted budget one for 2019, the GDP growth is projected to be 4 percent, he added.

Because of the delay, he said, job order workers have been unable to get their salaries. About 30 percent of government workers are job order employees, he noted.

The House and the Senate separately ratified the budget measure on Feb. 8, but the bill has not been transmitted to Malacañang due to differences over last-minute changes made by the House after ratification.

Lacson and Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the finance committee, said senators from both the majority and the minority were “solidly” behind Sotto.

“We all stand by Senate [President] Tito Sotto [on] the budget. From the start. Unequivocally,” Legarda said on her Twitter account.

She was seconded by Sen. Joel Villanueva.

Lacson also disputed the claim of House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez that a “silent majority” actually disagreed with Sotto.

“Has Suarez, the House ‘company union’ minority leader, become so desperate for his share of the pork allocation that he now resorts to lying just to get his bounty?” Lacson said.

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TAGS: 2019 national budget, budget insertions, Juan Migue Zubiri, pork insertions, Rolando Andaya Jr.
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