House to resume budget hearings after meeting with Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives is set to resume budget hearings this month after its leaders met with President Rodrigo Duterte to address the deadlock over the proposed cash-based P3.757-trillion 2019 budget.

On Wednesday, August 15, House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya said Duterte helped create "clear lines of communication" between the executive and lawmakers who reject a cash-based budgeting system next year.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Andaya, her former budget chief, met with Duterte in between the latter's events in Malacañang on Tuesday, August 14. 

"First of all, let me clarify [that] there is no rejection of the proposal of the Palace. A lot of the hype was probably due to miscommunication. But now, after meeting last night with the President, I think we've established clear lines of communication," said Andaya.

"I think I can suggest to the chairman [that] we now continue the budget hearings. The instructions are clear now. So over the break, we'll resume," he added.

The 17th Congress is set to go on a 12-day break from August 16 to 27. 

House committee on appropriations chairperson Karlo Nograles announced on August 11 that the lower chamber was temporarily suspending budget hearings until the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) agrees to revert the proposed 2019 budget to an obligation-based budget. 

Several legislators reject cash-based budgeting, arguing it would lead to "huge cuts" in agencies' funds.

The submitted 2019 National Expenditure Program amounts to P3.757 trillion or 19.3% of the country's projected gross domestic product for next year. (READ: What is cash-based budgeting?)

Most lawmakers say this amount is smaller than the 2018 obligation-based budget of P3.767 trillion. The 2018 budget's cash-based equivalent, however, is at P3.318 trillion, making the 2019 budget 19.3% higher.

What compromises are the House willing to take? Andaya said the House leadership is now open to realigning allocations under the proposed 2019 budget to address huge cuts for key sectors like education and health.

"We make adjustments inside. We can do that," said the Camarines Sur 1st District representative.

Andaya said the DBM may also opt to pass supplemental budgets so the government can fund the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law as well as the recent Supreme Court decision that a "just share" of local government units shall be sourced from all national taxes, not just from national internal revenue taxes. 

That's because no funds were allocated for these two items under the proposed 2019 budget. 

Were lawmakers able to discuss these with the DBM? Not yet. Andaya said House leaders have yet to personally talk to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.  

But Duterte will be meeting with Diokno and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Wednesday to convince them to find a "compromise" with the lawmakers

Diokno already had an initial meeting with Nograles and Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda on Tuesday morning.

But at the time, Nograles insisted the House would still push for an obligation-based budgeting system, while Diokno said it would either be a cash-based budget or a reenacted budget in 2019.

According to Andaya, Duterte also told the House leaders that he did not personally instruct Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque to say Malacañang is "not scared" of a reenacted budget next year.

"We personally spoke with him (Duterte) and he did not utter those words," said Andaya.

Senators, meanwhile, have already said they back the cash-based budgeting system. – 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.

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