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House agrees to adopt bicam-approved budget after Duterte sides with senators —Sotto

The House of Representatives has agreed to adhere to the version of the P3.757-trillion budget approved by the bicameral conference committee and ratified by both houses of Congress, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday night.

This developed, Sotto said, after President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not sign the General Appropriations Bill if the Senate leader didn't sign it.

Duterte and leaders of both the Senate and the House met on Tuesday night to discuss the budget bill that remained in limbo in mid-March.

"The President wanted to resolve the impasse. He opened the dialogue by saying he will not sign the budget if I do not sign it," Sotto said.

"After some words from both sides, Senator Lacson suggested that  the HOR recall the  enrolled copy they sent and revert back to the bicam report that both houses approved," he added.

"The President and members of the executive department concurred. HOR appeared to have acquiesced but we have yet to see if they will follow the agreement," Sotto said.

Both houses of Congress ratified in February the version of the budget approved by the bicameral panel but the House of Representatives admitted itemizing lump sum allocations even after the ratification.

This did not sit well with senators particularly Sotto and Senator Panfilo Lacson, who claimed that such a move was contrary to the constitution.

House Committee on Appropriations chairman Rolando Andaya, for the House, said the provisions introduced by the House as regards the lump sum funds were well-within the measures agreed upon in the bicameral committee.

Sotto, Lacson, Senate Committee on Finance chairperson Loren Legarda, Senator Gregorio Honasan and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri attended the meeting with Duterte,

Andaya, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Majority Leader Fredenil Castro and San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora were among the House members who attended.

"The President had asked us to pass the budget so that the programs of government can continue," Zubiri said.

"You will have to interview SP on the senate proposal to just pass the ratified version while the house is insisting on the line by line itemization and not lump sum," he added.

"We still met while the president had left but there’s still no consensus unfortunately," Zubiri said.

Majority Floor Leader Fredenil Castro, in a statement said that during the meeting, the President suggested to the members of both the Senate and the House Representatives to finish the 2019 budget as soon as possible.

"There was a suggestion presented by Senator Ping Lacson to finish the budget by retaining the lump sum appropriations in the bicameral report and just allow the President itemize the projects which may be covered by the lump sum appropriations," Castro said.

"To this suggestion, Rep. Nonoy Andaya expressed reservation as this would be unconstitutional. This proposal of Senator Lacson did not sit well with the President because, quoting the President, he does not want to be involved in allocating projects," he added.

Castro said the President suggested to the members of both chambers to just finish the budget in a manner they are comfortable.

"Members of both chambers signified to the President that they will follow his suggestion so that in a few days’ time, the budget is finalized," he also said. —Amita Legaspi/NB, GMA News