By Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz, Butch Fernandez
THE leadership of the House of Representatives on Tuesday clarified that it has not withdrawn the enrolled proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made the clarification after San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed that the House has agreed to recall its version of the annual budget to break the budget impasse.
“No, we have not withdrawn our version. We’re in discussions about what is the proposed new version,” said Arroyo in an interview at the sidelines of an event on mining.
Zamora was tasked by Arroyo to negotiate with the Senate.
Arroyo said no annual budget will be transmitted to President Duterte for signature if there’s no agreement between the chambers.
“If we don’t come to an agreement, and then [Senate
President] Tito Sotto does not sign the bill, then there’s no bill to send to
President. So I do not know if we will, but I would wish we would,” she added.
According to Arroyo, the House will stand strong on its position that itemizing the lump sum is legal even after ratification. The bicameral conference report that the Senate and the House approved on February 8 contained lump-sum funds.
“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,” she said.
The lower chamber is asking the Senate to identify their lump-sum funds. According to the House, the realignment of the Senate is also nowhere to be found in the bicameral conference committee report.
Earlier, House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. said no congressman has the authority, without plenary approval, to order the recall of the enrolled form of any bill already transmitted to the Senate.
The proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act was approved in plenary at the House of the Representatives, and the ratification of the bicameral conference report on the national budget was also made in plenary, Andaya said.
That’s why, Andaya said the recall of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) must also be done in plenary session, with Majority members of the House in approval.
The 17th Congress has until May 20 to pass the P3.757-trillion national budget. The Congress will resume session on May 20 after the three-month break due to midterm elections.
Andaya explanation assailed
Amid conflicting reports on whether the House is withdrawing or not its version of budget, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, in a statement, said Andaya’s explanation was nothing but “claptrap.”
He said tinkering with the GAB after its ratification by the Congress was unconstitutional as it violated Article VI, Section 26 (2) of the 1987 Constitution, which states that, “Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendments thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal.”
“Congressman Andaya wants to hoodwink the public into believing that there was nothing illegal about this post-ratification act because—in Andaya’s words—the House leadership had simply itemized lump-sum outlays in the GAB in the interest of transparency,” Villafuerte, a vice chairman of the House appropriations committee, said.
Villafuerte also hit the House leadership for committing an “unconstitutional abomination” in realigning this congressional break to favor some solons.
Citing an official document, Villafuerte said the House-initiated amendments for the 2019 budget increased the GAB by P20.724 billion, resulting from positive realignments of P100.428 billion and negative realignments or cuts of P79.704 billion in funds for DPWH programs.
However, he said the same document noted that although the House amendments only amounted to a net increase of P20.724, the chamber had actually introduced “internal realignments” within the DPWH budget that “will substantially change” the allocation per congressional district and the nature of the projects.
The lawmaker said the realigned allocations or budget cuts from the over 80 targeted districts covered P72.319 billion in DPWH-identified projects for roads and bridges, national buildings, network development, flood management, asset preservation and foreign-assisted projects; and P4.150 billion of projects under the DPWH’s Convergence and Special Support Program.
Moreover, the outlay for the Local Infrastructure Program, which includes projects identified by legislators, reflected a net increase of P95.173 billion, of which P70.729 billion was “parked” under the budget of the DPWH central office, he said.
Senators stand firm
Senators are standing firm on the final version of the P3.7-trillion 2019 budget they ratified, even as Lacson was tapped to hold talks with their House counterparts seeking to recall the already enrolled budget bill set to be submitted to President Duterte for signing into law.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said they were getting mixed signals from their House counterparts.
“Yes, we’re getting confused now. What’s the real score?” Sotto said in an interview on Tuesday, adding: “So, we will just wait for them [House members] to make up their minds, otherwise, we can wait until June 30,” referring to the date when the terms of incumbent congressmen expires.