MANILA (Mabuhay) – House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II warned Thursday that persistent questions over the quorum and attacks on the proposed 2015 budget could delay its approval or, worse, force a reenacted budget next year.
“And they say that a reenacted budget makes the incumbent president a strong president,” he added.
Gonzales’ warning came after the plenary deliberation of the budget was suspended around 10 p.m. Wednesday despite a pending motion to adjourn called by Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco of the United Nationalist Alliance.
Now in its fourth day in plenary, the deliberation on the proposed P2.606-trillion 2015 budget has been marked by long debates and questions over the quorum, which requires the presence of at least 146 of the 290-member chamber.
“We will always try to have a quorum when we deliberate, but absent that, and when someone questions it, we cannot proceed,” Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said.
“While it is our desire to have a new budget for 2015, questions on quorum and attacks could delay the approval of the budget, and raises the possibility of a reenacted budget,” he added.
“So, some people should be careful with what they wish for, because it might happen,” Gonzales said in a phone interview.
He pointed out that, with presidential elections just two years away, people are closely looking at the 2015 budget, which many see as an election budget.
“What I’m saying is that some people might be focused just on one thing, without looking at the greater picture. The greater picture is, do you want a reenacted budget?” he said.
Article 6 Section 25 (7) of the 1987 Constitution states: “If, by the end of any fiscal year, the Congress shall have failed to pass the general appropriations bill for the ensuing fiscal year, the general appropriations law for the preceding fiscal year shall be deemed re-enacted and shall remain in force and effect until the general appropriations bill is passed by the Congress.”
Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones earlier said allowing government to operate on a reenacted budget was dangerous and would be akin to giving Malacañang a blank check.
A report by the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project pointed out that, “since President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo stepped into office in 2001, there has not been a single year that her administration did not operate on a reenacted budget for at least part of the time.”
“For seven years – including 2010 – the government operated on a reenacted budget for up to four months of each year,” the report added.
Recalling the events of Wednesday night, Gonzales said he was walking to the front of the session hall to tell Deputy Speaker Carlos Padilla, the presiding officer, to suspend the session until 10 a.m. of Thursday, when Tiangco blocked his path.
“I told him not to block me,” Gonzales said, adding that he turned around and left the session hall to go to his office.
Tiangco confirmed blocking Gonzales because he he wanted the Majority Leader to explain why his motion to adjourn was not entertained.
“The motion to adjourn is the highest motion. You cannot move to suspend if you have not acted on the motion to adjourn,” Tiangco said. “I really blocked his (Gonzales) path. Hindi naman ako papayag na babuyin iyong rules namin. Hinarang ko siya (I wasn’t about to allow a mockery of our rules. I blocked him), I wasn’t going to let him pass no matter what happened, hindi ako papayag nu’n (I would not permit that).”
If session was suspended, it could be resumed the next day and the deliberation could continue.
But if adjourned, Gonzales said that, at the start of the session, the body would need to approve the journals of the previous session, which would require a roll call.
“Maawa naman siya sa secretariat ng House. Ibig sabihin, kailangan nila i-prepare ang (He should take pity on the House secretariat. It would mean they have to preare the) journal for approval, and you are talking here of the journal for three days,” he said.
Plenary deliberation on the budget is scheduled from September 15 to 26, with the budgets of several agencies lined up for discussion each day.
So far, the agencies whose budgets have been approved are the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Ombudsman.
Deliberation on the budgets of the Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Social Welfare and Development have been deferred.
Gonzales said they expect to approve the proposed 2015 budget on second reading on September 26, and on third reading by the end of October, after which it will be transmitted to the Senate.
Congress will go on a three-week break starting September 27, and will resume session on October 20. (MNS)a