House leaders say issues after withdrawal of 2020 budget already ‘sorted out’

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Leaders of the House of Representatives said they have fixed the “misunderstanding” hounding the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano issued the statement on Monday, September 2, after two administration-allied lawmakers – House committee on appropriations chairperson Isidro Ungab and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte – clashed over the withdrawal of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) from the House plenary. 

“The House leadership, in a meeting today, sorted out all issues as to the procedure and goals for the 2020 budget,” said Cayetano. (READ: Smells like pork? ‘Premature’ 2020 budget bill withdrawn in House plenary

“We assure the public that [the] budget will be scrutinized but will not be delayed and will be transparent. Pork and parking have no place in the 2020 budget,” he added. 

Apart from Ungab and Villafuerte, also present during the meeting were Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla, Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales II, appropriations panel vice chairperson Elenita Ermita Buhain, and other vice chairpersons of the said committee. 

The meeting was called after Villafuerte blocked Ungab’s filing of the GAB in the House plenary last week, signalling the collision of two blocs in the House that are allied with President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Villafuerte said Ungab’s filing was “premature” since budget deliberations are still ongoing at the committee level. 

But Ungab contested this, arguing that it had long been the practice in the House for the appropriations panel to prepare the GAB as soon as the executive branch submits to Congress the National Expenditure Program, the version of the annual budget as prepared by the executive branch. (READ: Ungab to Villafuerte: Bill withdrawal to 'definitely derail' 2020 budget passage)

After Villafuerte’s withdrawal of the bill, the 2020 GAB went to the committee on rules, which is responsible for scheduling which measures will be tackled by lawmakers in the plenary.

Remulla echoed Cayetano's statement, saying the "misunderstanding" had been resolved.

"It was just a misunderstanding among some parties. Okay na 'yon. Wala nang problema (But things are okay now. There's no more problem)," Remulla told Rappler. 

But Cayetano said the 2020 GAB would be referred back to Ungab’s appropriations committee once all government departments and agencies submit copies of their budget proposal presentations to the House leadership by 5 pm on Tuesday, September 3.

Rappler sources, however, said Cayetano scolded Ungab before the other House leaders during their meeting. (READ: All is well? Cayetano berates Ungab over 2020 budget row)

Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate already raised a red flag in the withdrawal of the 2020 GAB, saying it "smells like the greasy patronage pork is being put into the oven.”

Accusations of illegal budget insertions hounded the 2019 budget, causing a months-long delay in its passage and leading to the government reenacting the 2018 budget in the first quarter of 2019.

Duterte was able to approve the 2019 budget only in April, but he vetoed P95.3 billion worth of allocations under the Department of Public Works and Highways.  

Despite the latest budget controversy, Cayetano still vows the House will pass the 2020 budget before the 18th Congress takes a break in October. 

“The House leadership, as originally scheduled, commits to approve the 2020 GAB before Congress goes on recess on the first week of October. The House will ensure the passage of a national budget that is constitutional, legal, transparent and accountable,” said Cayetano. – 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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