MANILA, Philippines – Despite having a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, the Senate and the House of Representatives still failed to reach a consensus on the P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget.
Duterte and congressional leaders met on Tuesday night, March 12, to discuss the General Appropriations Bill or the national budget, which remains pending despite the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Duterte openly told lawmakers that he would not sign the budget if Sotto does not sign it.
The House, he added, "appeared to have acquiesced" but there is still no confirmation.
"The President wanted to resolve the impasse. He opened the dialogue by saying he will not sign the budget if I do not sign it. After some words from both sides, Senator [Panfilo] Lacson suggested that the [House] recall the enrolled copy they sent and revert back to the bicam report that both houses approved,” Sotto told reporters in a message.
"The President and members of the executive department concurred. [The House] appeared to have acquiesced but we have yet to see if they will follow the agreement," he added.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said there was still no agreement after the meeting.
"The President had asked us to pass the budget so that the programs of government can continue," Zubiri said.
"We still met while the President had left but there's still no consensus unfortunately," he said.
The issue stemmed after the House admitted amending the ratified version by itemizing lump sum allocation. The move came after the Senate and the House already ratified the version of the budget approved by the bicam in February. (READ: Can the budget be adjusted post-bicam? What Supreme Court says)
Sotto, Lacson, and other senators opposed it, calling the House's action as unconstitutional.
But House appropriations chairperson Rolando Andaya said that the House provisions on the lump sum funds were part of the measures agreed upon in the bicam. He also claimed that the Senate did the same after ratification, but senators denied it.
Aside from Sotto and Zubiri, other senators who attended the meeting were Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda (finance committee chairperson), and Gregorio Honasan.
Andaya, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Majority Leader Fredenil Castro, and San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora were among the House members present.
With the ongoing deadlock, the Philippines continues to operate under a reenacted budget, amounting to P3.767 trillion. – Rappler.com