A REENACTED 2018 national budget looms as the Senate stands firm on the P50-billion cut in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget, which the House of Representatives has vowed to fight.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson who has proposed to slash P50.7 billion from the DPWH appropriations in the Senate’s version of the measure, said he could defend his position.
“I am very confident that I can justify the cut that I proposed and which was approved in plenary. I just hope we will stick to the issue at hand instead of misleading the public,” Lacson said in a text message on Friday.
Sen. Ralph Recto downplayed the looming impasse, saying a reenacted budget in 2018, or adopting the P3.35 trillion appropriations in 2017, was “not good” for the country.
The two senators were reacting to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s statement that the House would not give in to the Senate version.
Like Recto, Lacson also allayed fears of a showdown in Congress.
“The fact is, there is no misunderstanding. Since October we’ve been asking DPWH to disaggregate the right-of-way and civil works costs in their proposed infrastructure projects for Fiscal Year 2018 in compliance with the law that says unless ROW issues/problems are resolved, no civil works shall commence,” Lacson said.
Lacson said, “In fact, the law is restated under Special Provision No. 10 in the 2017 GAA [General Appropriations Act] and repeated under Special Provision No. 12 in the 2018 General Appropriations bill now undergoing bicameral conference.”
“Save for P11.38 billion where they [House lawmakers] submitted a list of ROW claimants, they failed to justify the rest of the P62.1 billion leaving P50.7 billion from the P62.68 billion. This is in addition to another P18.389 billion that they failed to disaggregate up to this date,” said the senator who, along with his colleagues, hopes to a pass a “pork-free” measure, referring to the contentious Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) which, for years, has allegedly become a major source of corruption.
Recto said that he was optimistic that “it will not be difficult to come to terms” with the House.”
“Don’t take too much out of it. I’m confident that there will be an agreement. I don’t see much problems. For as long as there are ready-to-go projects, that should be implemented,” said Recto who was at the first bicameral conference meeting on the disagreeing provisions of the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) measure.
Recto cautioned Lacson on the DPWH cut, “If that is lump sum, it’s not justifiable. If that’s line item, it’s justifiable. It’s as simple as that, the way I look at it.”
The bicameral conference committee for the P3.77-trillion national budget for 2018 met for the first time on Thursday and disagreed immediately over realignments that the Senate had proposed.
The House version approved the P639 billion DPWH despite unresolved “right-of-way” issues.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles of the appropriations committee slammed the Senate for the drastic changes in 2018 budget two weeks before Congress was set to send the measure to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval.
Nograles referred to the DPWH budget which, he said, the agency had defended, citing projects that needed to be implemented under the government’s infrastructure program.
“We finished this very early as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. We submitted it to them [Senate], the House version and it took them how many months, weeks for them to finish their version of the budget,” Nograles said.
“And now suddenly, they will finish their version of the budget near the end of the year and they will give this to us with a lot of adjustments and expect us to adapt to these adjustments just like that? It will not be easy.”
The Senate passed its version of the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA) on Wednesday night while the House approved its version on September 26.
Nograles said Congress was looking at sending the budget to the President before its break on December 12.
Malacañang set the deadline for the signing of the 2018 GAA on December 19.