MANILA, Philippines – To sidestep legality issues, the House of Representatives turned into a bill the joint resolution it already approved on 3rd reading extending the shelf life of the 2019 budget.
This was confirmed to Rappler on Tuesday, November 12, by House committee on appropriations chairperson Isidro Ungab and Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, co-authors of House Bill (HB) No. 5400. Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte also filed HB 5424, a replica of Ungab and Legarda's bill.
Both measures, which were later consolidated into HB 5437, retained the content of House Joint Resolution (HJR) No. 19.
HJR 19, which included Davao Oriental 2nd District Representative Joel Mayo, as well as Ungab and Legarda as authors, aimed to extend the life of funds allocated for the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and for capital outlay under the 2019 budget.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ungab sponsored HB 5437 in the plenary. It was immediately approved on second reading through viva voce voting or a vote of ayes and nays.
The measure will now have to go through a 3rd and final reading for it to hurdle the House.
Ungab said they were changing the form of legislation after the Supreme Court (SC) said a “mere resolution, cannot amend or repeal a prior law” in its recent ruling on the salary grades of nurses.
“Yes, it will be in the form of a bill… The SC ruled that a mere resolution cannot amend or repeal a prior law which is an act of Congress. A Republic Act should also be amended or repealed by a Republic Act. The same applies to Executive Orders or executive directives, which the SC said that these are not laws,” Ungab said in a Viber message.
LOOK: To avoid questions on legality, the House is moving to turn into a bill the joint resolution that would extend the shelf life of the 2019 budget, which lawmakers already approved on 3rd reading last week. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/7ReDJVFH2r — Mara Cepeda (@maracepeda) November 12, 2019
The Davao City 3rd District congressman said it was the Senate that first raised the alarm that constitutionality complications may stymie HJR 19. The Senate leadership then asked the House if they would be amenable to changing the form of HJR 19.
The House agreed, prompting Ungab and Legarda to file their bill. The measure was referred to the House committee on rules.
It remained to be seen if HB 5400 would still be deliberated by the appropriations panel or if the rules committee would send it directly to the plenary for 2nd reading sponsorship.
The Senate version of HJR 19 has only passed the committee level in the Senate.
The passage of the 2019 budget was hounded by accusations of illegal budget insertions, including the alleged return of pork barrel and the so-called “parking” funds scheme.
The budget deadlock delayed the passage of the 2019 General Appropriations Act and forced the government to reenact the 2018 budget in the first quarter of 2019.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the 2019 budget only in April, but not after vetoing the controversial multi-billion funds under the Department of Public Works and Highways.
This is not the first time a joint resolution was used to extend the validity of the national budget, however.