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Stop the clock.

If we are to believe the Senators, they are pressed for time to approve the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill within the less than two weeks left of the sessions of the 17th Congress. This is because our lawmakers are set to adjourn this December 14 for their Christmas break.

Obviously, this is the continuing domino effect of the tumultuous leadership change at the House of Representatives on July 23 this year when the ruling majority ousted their previous Speaker, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.

After several months of rumored plots to change the House leadership, the ruling majority struck out Alvarez and installed Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In the dramatic House leadership change, the submission of two volume books of the proposed 2019 GAA bill on the same day of the state of the nation address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte got waylaid in the ensuing developments.

So, aside from President Duterte, the 2019 GAA bill was the other casualty of that House leadership brouhaha that highlighted the traditional joint opening session at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. Most of the Senators could only blame the delay of the transmittal to them of the House-approved 2019 GAA bill for their present predicament.

As far as the Senators are concerned, they were left with limited time within which to go through with fine-toothed comb the House budget version. After all, once approved into law, the proposed 2019 GAA bill coincides with the holding of next year's elections in May.

At least six Senators are up for re-election and majority of the Congressmen are also running in the polls next May. So naturally, they count upon the projects and programs that would be funded under the 2019 budget law to help ensure their re-election into office.

From all indications, the Senators should have enough time to approve and later ratify the 2019 budget bill. Or are they procrastinating? Isn't it that the Senate started its own public hearings on the 2019 GAA bill at the same time their House counterparts began deliberations on the 2019 GAA bill? So, why should they need more time? Calling themselves as "independent Republics," the Senators want to go over each and every item of the 2019 GAA bill version of their House counterparts.

Following rumored "insertions" anew of "pork barrel" allocations, understandably, this is a big issue among lawmakers in both Chambers. As of this writing, the Senate began yesterday their plenary debate on the 2019 GAA bill.

As the chairperson of the Senate finance committee, outgoing Senator Loren Legarda is sponsoring anew the 2019 budget bill. This is her fourth and last time to sponsor the budget bill as Senate finance committee chair.

Now on her second and last term at the Senate ending in June next year, Legarda vouches for the 2019 GAA bill as something she could capably defend for its immediate approval into law. Incidentally, Legarda is also running next year for a congressional seat in her home province in Antique.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III is worried they cannot commit to pass the proposed P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019. Sotto fears it will not be "physically possible" for them to do so due to procedural requirements that eat into their timeline. Assuming we are able to pass it (GAA) by next week, what about the bicam (bicameral conference committee meeting) and printing?" Sotto pointed out.

Sotto warned anew the government might operate on a "reenacted" 2018 budget law that would automatically kick in if no new budget is passed into law by Dec. 31. Hence, the national government will continue to source its budget requirements from the 2018 budget law at least for the first three months next year.

As a back-up plan, the Senate approved last Monday night a Joint Resolution extending the validity of the capital outlay and maintenance and other operating expenses appropriations in the 2018 national budget until the end of 2019. Echoing the sentiments of his fellow Senators, Sottodeplored the delayed transmittal of the GAA bill to the Senate only on the last week of November. Sotto noted the delay was largely due to the resulting revamp of key House committees following the assumption into House Speakership of Mrs.

Arroyo. Sotto himself was also installed only on May 21 this year before the end of the second regular sessions of 17th Congress.

One of those directly affected by the revamp was the House committee on appropriations from which the GAA bill originates and must be passed upon. It was previously chaired by Davao City Rep.

Karlo Alexie Nograles, a distant nephew of President Duterte. Removed as chairman of the House appropriations, the President appointed Nograles on Nov.

5 as his new Secretary of the Cabinet to replace Leoncio Evasco who resigned in order to run for governor of Bohol. At the height of the revamp controversy, the Speaker decided to transform the House into a Committee of the Whole that tackled the 2019 GAA bill while it was undergoing re-alignments.

A total of P52 billion were re-aligned to various departments of the government where each and every congressman was able to include his or her pet projects in the 2019 GAA bill. These P52 billion worth of realignments by the House are now the subject of scrutiny of eagle-eyed Senators like Panfilo Lacson and Ralph Recto who have sharpened their scissors to cut, if not remove such questionable insertions.

Definitely, this will cause another delay once the bicameral conference committee sits down to reconcile the 2019 GAA bill. It was suggested that the bicameral conference committee be given only one day ndash on Dec.

12 ndash to do its work. If this is carried out, both chambers could ratify thebudgetthe following day.

If this suggestion still won't work, our lawmakers could just stop the clock that would effectively extend their sessions beyond their calendared Christmas break. The Senators suspended their sessions to watch the Ateneo-UP basketball championship match last Monday.

So they can stop the clock, too, for the 2019 budget bill.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Dec 4, 2018
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