House leadership scrambles to address budget deadlock

MANILA, Philippines – Leaders of the House of Representatives clashed on how to address the ongoing budget deadlock with the Senate, after Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the lower chamber has not yet recalled the enrolled version of the 2019 budget it earlier forwarded to senators.

On Tuesday, March 19, the Speaker contradicted the statement of San Juan City Representative Ronaldo Zamora, who said the day before that the House already recalled the budget bill "as a sign of good faith in order to continue discussing" the issues the Senate raised.

Zamora was tasked by Arroyo to negotiate with senators so the latter will already sign the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.

"No, we have not withdrawn our version. We're in discussions about what is the proposed new version," Arroyo told reporters in a chance interview at a hotel in Taguig City.

This was echoed by House committee on appropriations chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr, who earlier said he was unaware Zamora was given the task to negotiate with the Senate. (READ: 'Last chance': Andaya presses Senate to sign 2019 budget)

"The agreement was the Senate is returning the books we sent them. Nothing about recall of [the bicameral conference committee] report as reported. Problem is there is no formal letter from Senate to that effect. Even if we want to physically get the books, how do we do it? It's Senate property now," Andaya told Rappler.

Rappler sought Zamora for his comment, but he has yet to reply as of posting time.

The Speaker said she will meet with congressmen on Tuesday to finalize what the House plans to do to address the budget impasse.

Still, Arroyo said the House will "insist" that there should be no lump sums in the 2019 General Appropriations Act. (READ: Arroyo insists House did nothing unconstitutional under 2019 budget)

"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," said the Pampanga 2nd District congresswoman.

But what if the senators do not agree with the House's proposal?

"If we don't come to an agreement and then [Senate President Vicente] '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 [reach an agreement], but I would wish we would," warned Arroyo. 

Senators have refused to sign the proposed 2019 budget after the House itemized lump sum funds under the health facilities budget. 

Senators argued it is unconstitutional for the House to distribute its lump sum funds after the budget was already ratified by both chambers. Andaya, however, claimed the Senate did the same, although senators denied it.

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte met with lawmakers in a bid to end the budget impasse, but the talks still led to nowhere. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

image