“Before we in the House answer as a body, let the Senate formalize that proposal… Right now, there is no indication that’s what the entire Senate wants. It’s just the suggestion of Sen. Ping (Panfilo Lacson),” Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said yesterday.
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House warns of delay in approving 2020 budget
Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - November 9, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Leaders of the House of Representatives yesterday warned the Senate of a possible delay in the approval of the proposed P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget if final talks on the measure are covered live by the media, as their counterparts in the Senate called for transparency.

“Before we in the House answer as a body, let the Senate formalize that proposal… Right now, there is no indication that’s what the entire Senate wants. It’s just the suggestion of Sen. Ping (Panfilo Lacson),” Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said yesterday.

Lacson has suggested that the bicameral conference that will come up with final version of the proposed budget for next year be open to the media and the public for the sake of transparency.

He also questioned yesterday the House’s plan to realign some P100 billion in the proposed P4.1-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2020 close to the end of the budget-drafting process in Congress.

Lacson was commenting on the announcement of Cayetano that some additional P50 billion and P100 billion would be moved to the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and other agencies.

The senator recalled how he was surprised that the House only made some P9.5 billion worth of amendments to the GAB when the lower chamber submitted it to the Senate.

He had expressed suspicions that congressmen will make a last-minute amendments at the bicameral conference committee or when a small group of representatives from the Senate and the House meet to reconcile conflicting provisions in their respective versions of the GAB, which is a good opportunity to insert “pork.”

“As things are turning out now, I was correct after all. The P100 billion to be realigned in the bicam is such a huge amount that could distort the entire budget to the detriment of the priority projects of the government,” Lacson said.

“Same question that I keep asking year in, year out. Was there planning involved in the realignment of such humongous amount? Were there even consultations made with the agencies to be affected by such realignments?” he said. 

He reiterated his call for the bicameral committee meetings to be open to the public even as he tied the announcement of the P100-billion realignment to the House’s refusal to his proposal.

“Probably that (realignment) is the reason why the House leadership is resisting transparency in the conduct of the bicam. I don’t understand for the life of me how it could turn into a circus. On the other hand, the bicam conferees will behave better if the proceedings are made open to the public,” Lacson said.

The two chambers will convene the conference after the Senate passes its version of the spending bill, which is still pending with its committee on finance.

Traditionally, a conference committee is composed of no more than 15 representatives from each chamber. After the panel’s initial meeting, detailed negotiations are handled by the chairmen of the House appropriations committee and the Senate finance committee.

The incumbent chairmen are Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City and Sen. Sonny Angara.

Cayetano said he and his colleagues share Lacson’s transparency and anti-corruption advocacies.

However, he said if the final budget talks are covered live by television, radio and other media organizations, many lawmakers “will play to the media and the gallery, rather than discussing what is the budget the nation needs.”

“Can the Senate impose a time limit on any of its members who wants to speak? It’s easy to play to the crowd. We are not afraid of transparency, but we don’t want to make the bicam a circus. Otherwise, come February, March or April, we still don’t have a budget,” he said. 

He added that there are certain things “in this world, in government” that are better left to leaders.

“Can you imagine, you in the media, if your editorial board meeting is on live stream while it is deciding which stories go on the front page, do you think the discussion will be as open and as honest as possible? What if one says all we have been publishing is bad news?” Cayetano asked.

He said whether in government or in media, there are issues that are resolved “by those in charge.”

“If the Senate wants to change that, we will consider it,” he said.

Deputy Speakers Mikee Romero of 1-Pacman and Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur said the nation could not afford another budget approval delay.

“The delay in the enactment of this year’s spending bill really took its toll on the economy, which lost at least P500 billion in the first six months. Growth slowed down in the first two quarters. We are fortunate that it recovered in the third quarter despite delayed expenditures for infrastructure and social services,” Romero, who is an economist, said.

“The adverse and costly effects of another delay are what the House, under Speaker Cayetano, wants to avoid,” he said.

ALAN PETER CAYETANO
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