Lacson: House concedes to Senate on 2019 budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 18) — The House of Representatives has conceded to the Senate on the proposed 2019 budget, agreeing to recall the spending bill it transmitted to the Senate, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said Monday.

Lacson told reporters that San Juan Rep. Ronnie Zamora, who has been designated House negotiator on the budget, called him up yesterday to say that the House leadership has agreed to back off on its amended budget bill.

Once recalled, Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said he will sign the budget bill for transmittal to Malacañang for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature. Sotto and Lacson expect that Duterte will veto lump sum items in the budget.

Whatever was vetoed may then be revived by Congress as a supplemental budget, which will be itemized by both the House and the Senate.

However, Lacson said it has yet to be seen whether the House will push through with recalling the budget bill.

"It bears watching if they will really recall or withdraw their version of the enrolled bill today and from there we will move forward," he said. "If they do not, then we don't have an enrolled bill and we won't have any national budget 'til August when the leadership of the House of Representatives changes."

But House Appropriations House Appropriations committee chair Camarines Sur 1st District Rep. Rolando Andaya told CNN Philippines' Balitaan that talks of recalling the budget bill are still "premature."

"I really don't know what they're talking about. Hindi po ako kasama diyan. Ako po 'yung chairman of Appropriations, siguro kung may magbabalita niyan, ako ang mauuna," Andaya said.

[Translation: I really don't know what they're talking about. I'm not included there. I am the chairman of Appropriations, maybe if someone's going to break the news, I'll be the first to do so.]

He also echoed House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro, saying that the budget bill could not be recalled without the approval of the plenary.

Despite this denial, Lacson stood pat on his earlier statement, saying that this is now a matter that congressmen have to settle among themselves.

"I-solve muna nila 'yun kasi kung hindi pala awtorisado si Congressman Zamora, eh bakit siya 'yung inatasan na makipagusap sa atin," Lacson said.

[Translation: They should solve that first because if Congressmen Zamora is not authorized, then why was he tasked to talk to us?]

Congressmen have been insisting on breaking down the lump sum appropriation in the budget after it was ratified by Congress, but senators pointed out that this could be illegal and unconstitutional.

Sotto has vowed not to sign the budget bill transmitted by the House, saying that he may be charged with falsification of legislative documents by certifying the bill which contains provisions which were not ratified by Congress, effectively blocking its transmittal to Malacañang for Duterte's signature.

Senators have been calling on the House to recall the budget bill it has transmitted and stick to the spending bill which was approved by the bicameral conference committee and ratified by Congress. This does not contain the assailed itemizations done by congressmen on lump sum funds in the budget.

But House leaders remain adamant on the itemization of lump sum funds.

"What we can say is that the process that we followed was constitutional. We would never put the President in a position of signing an unconstitutional bill," House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told reporters Monday.

Aside from the debate over the legality of what the House has done on the budget, congressmen and senators have also been trading accusations that they realigned billions of funds away from government agencies and into their respective congressional districts and bailiwicks.

Duterte met with lawmakers last week in hopes of breaking the impasse, but to no avail. The executive branch has since taken a hands off approach on the 2019 budget, letting solons resolve the issue among themselves.

The 2019 budget has been delayed for three months, as Congress has failed to pass it on time over allegations of anomalous insertions.

The National Economic and Development Authority has warned that if the budget is only passed in August, the country's economic growth will only be around 4.9 to 5.1 percent, while growth can further stunt to 4.2 to 4.9 percent if the budget is reenacted for the entire year.

Economic managers also slashed the country's growth forecast from seven to eight percent to six to seven percent due to the delay of the 2019 budget.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas, Xave Gregorio and Rex Remitio contributed to this report.