Wrangling over 2019 budget scuttles first day of deliberations

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 17 2018 09:59 PM | Updated as of Sep 23 2019 04:50 PM

MANILA - Differences between House Leaders over the 2019 budget derailed the beginning of plenary deliberations on next year’s budget that was scheduled today.

The 2019 budget is the subject of more scrutiny than usual because it will be implemented during an election year.

The plenary session that began at 10 a.m. adjourned close to 5 p.m. today, achieving nothing as it was suspended practically the whole day.

After a stalemate that lasted the whole day, House Appropriations Committee chair Karlo Nograles emerged from Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte’s office and told media he is ready to defend during the plenary deliberations the committee report on the budget that his panel approved last week. 

Nograles confirmed he called for an executive meeting of the committee today at the behest of the leadership, causing the actual start of budget deliberations to be moved from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The meeting was supposedly called to discuss a possible alternative committee report but the panel rejected this. 

"Whatever the agenda was this morning did not gain the support. Whatever the agenda was was not approved, there is nothing else to discuss," Nograles said.

Nograles declined to give more details since it was an executive session. But later on, he admitted there was an attempt to oust him as committee chair but that can’t happen unless he is voted out by the plenary. Nograles assured everybody he can vacate the post anytime.

Both Nograles and Villafuerte denied rumors that there were plots to oust former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from the House Speakership.

Villafuerte also declined to give details from the executive session but he claims House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. bullied him and Nograles during the meeting.

“Sinigawan niya ako, minura niya ako, naghamon siya. Palagi naman kasi pikon 'yun. Ginawa niya na sa akin 'yun. He is running against my son, siguro alam niya 'di siya mananalo. Huwag natin dalhin ang local politcs sa Congress. Dapat 'di ka nanghahamon at nanglalait," Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte apparently referred to Andaya’s supposed plans to run against Villafuerte’s son for the provincial governorship of their province. Andaya is on his last term.

"I have right, he was just bullying me, bullying Karlo Nograles, marami siya sinabi na below the belt. Hinamon niya ako ng suntukan, lumalabas ang masamang ugali ni Andaya," he added.

Villafuerte also denied reports that his district was earmarked P3 billion in the 2019 budget.

Andaya, in a late-breaking press conference, denied Villafuerte’s allegations of bullying.

“Wala. Wala. Yung nangyari kanina, usapang lalake yun. Hindi naman ako kiss and tell," he said.

"Wala rin naman pinapakitang medico-legal. We’re a deliberative body. Once in a while, we have a spirited or emphatic point to raise," Andaya added.

Andaya claimed Arroyo presided over the meeting, which he claims was unsanctioned by Arroyo. 

“Walang nagpatawag noon. The speaker saw it fit to attend the proceedings and try to shed light on what’s happenning," he said.

Andaya denied he is trying to bully Nograles into approving another committee report.

“I cannot prepare a committee report for him. I’m not a chairman of the Committee on Appropriations. I can only suggest things to him," he said.

Andaya maintains that the Committee on Rules has not submitted any committee report to the plenary.

He also said he spoke to Nograles last week on the phone where he explained himself.

Andaya flatly denies that Arroyo wants to slash the budget. 

"It was made to appear we are slashing the budget. How can we slash the budget, we haven't even discussed the framework," he said.

Andaya also said that the president’s budget is intact. 

"The speaker has no intentions to reduce that amount of budget. Marami kasing insinuations, wala pong balak ang speaker na bawasan ang budget. Ang nais gawin, i-align sa polisiya," he said.

Andaya revealed that around 50 congressmen have come up to Arroyo’s office to complain of projects earmarked for their districts without their knowledge. 

He said they are also looking into complaints from congressmen that as much as P55 billion worth of projects in the 2019 budget that were earmarked without their knowledge.

The budget deliberations are expected to begin tomorrow though it remains unclear how today’s disruption will affect their timeline to finish the debates this week.

In a statement, Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro said: "The proposed General Appropriations Fund is being reviewed to make sure that the budget of the President, which is certainly for the benefit of the Filipino and for the good of the country, is protected and delivered to the Filipinos. Any allusion contrary to the real intention of the ongoing review of the budget is a misguided effort to deceive the public."

'WE ARE READY TO TALK ABOUT 2019 BUDGET'

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In an interview on DZMM, Nograles maintained that the Committee on Appropriations is ready to defend the 2019 budget.

"Let's go by the document, and on the document is that, on the floor now is a committee report that was already approved by the Committee on Appropriations, pati ng Rules, nandiyan na po 'yan sa floor, at ready na po kami sa Committee on Appropriations na isponsoran 'yan at depensahan 'yan," he said.

He also denied reports that he had an argument with Andaya.

"Wala, walang galit galit dito. No one is angry at anybody. There is no fight, there is no quarrel. Wala ito. We are all grown-ups here, we're all professionals here. We are all representatives of the people here. Let's work. Trabaho lang tayo," Nograles said.