Duterte-Congress dinner has budget impasse on menu

March 12, 2019
Salvador Panelo

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte was set to meet with leaders of both houses of Congress at a dinner to discuss the 2019 budget amid an impasse between both chambers following the House’s admission that they itemized lump sum amounts in the budget after its ratification.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Loren Legarda, House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya are expected to join the meeting with the President at 8 p.m.

“It is a good opportunity to resolve whatever differences there are pertaining to the 2019 budget,” Lacson said in a text message. “We won’t be there to quarrel but to resolve the issues surrounding the budget.”

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo expects that Duterte will serve as a “moderator” between leaders of Congress, whose members have been at odds over whether it is proper for the House to itemize lump sum amounts in the budget after its final version has been approved.

Panelo added that they are hoping for the best in Duterte’s meeting with congressional leaders.

“They will be settled kasi alam nila na (because they know that) any reenacted budget will affect the operations of the government,” he said.

Sotto has threatened that he will not sign the budget if the House made changes to the bill after its ratification. This would effectively block the transmission of the budget bill to Duterte for his signature and further delay its enactment into law.

Duterte said in a speech last night that he would not sign an illegal budget bill.

However, Panelo, who also serves as presidential legal counsel, dodged questions on what exactly Duterte found to be illegal in the budget. He also did not answer if what the House did is indeed illegal, as asserted by senators.

The government has been operating on a reenacted budget since the beginning of the year after Congress failed to pass the 2019 budget on time due to delays over allegations of allegedly anomalous insertions.

Due to this, the government failed to pay for the advanced payments for key railway projects — the rehabilitation of the MRT-3, the Metro Manila subway and the Philippine National Railway Tutuban-Malolos railway.