Duterte prods Congress: Pass 2019 national budget

Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte prods Congress: Pass 2019 national budget
Even as Duterte prodded Congress on the P3.7-trillion outlay, he also said he would not sign an “illegal document.”
Michael Varcas

But he won’t sign ‘illegal’ document

MANILA, Philippines — With the Senate and House of Representatives diging in for further confrontation over this year’s annual appropriation, President Duterte has warned that “everyone will suffer” if the government continues to operate on a reenacted budget.

Even as Duterte prodded Congress on the P3.7-trillion outlay, he also said he would not sign an “illegal document.”

“We will have a slide in the GDP if we are going to reenact the budget. Everyone will suffer including our law enforcement,” Duterte said during the awarding of outstanding female uniformed and civilian employees at Malacañang yesterday.

But he stressed, “I will not sign anything that will be an illegal document.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also said yesterday he would not sign the enrolled copy of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) ahead of its transmittal to Duterte for enactment unless the House withdraws all the changes it made after the bicameral conference and submits the original version as ratified by Congress last Feb. 8.

Sotto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in separate interviews reiterated that amending the GAB after the Senate and the House ratified it violated the Constitution as well as a provision in the Revised Penal Code on falsification of legislative documents.

“Let’s revert back to what we (Congress) passed in the bicam, ratified by both Houses, send it to us – we know what we passed – and I’m sure we can transmit the budget to the President in a matter of days. It’s that simple,” Sotto told reporters.

“It’s simple. What was passed should be the enrolled copy (to be transmitted to Malacañang). It can’t be touched,” he said.

Sotto relayed his message through his partymates in the Nationalist People’s Coalition in the House and through the “right hand person” of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom he did not identify.

He said the possibility of the GAB being “archived” and the government running on a reenacted budget or the 2018 General Appropriations Act “is really looming now” if the House insists on its position.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Sunday warned the government may continue to run on a reenacted budget until August if the impasse is not resolved when Congress resumes session from the last week of May to early June.

Lacson had alleged the House made realignments of about P95 billion from the ratified GAB, of which P70 billion was “parked” at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) central office apparently for future disbursements for projects to be identified by concerned congressmen.

Some House members, including Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza and Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Aurora Cerilles, ran to senators and complained that their previous allocations for projects in their districts were reduced and transferred to other congressional districts.

Sotto said if the GAB is not passed, the Senate will push for the approval of a supplemental budget to fund projects not listed in the 2018 GAA.

Sotto and Drilon scoffed at Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr.’s assertion that the chamber was simply itemizing lump sums created during the bicameral conference committee meetings on the GAB, and that the Senate also made their post-ratification changes. Andaya chairs the House appropriations committee.

Information obtained by senators from the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) showed the House did not just provide details for their projects but realigned appropriations.

“If they (House) think what they did was legal, then they should sign it (GAB) and just submit it us,” Sotto said, even as he denied that senators also made realignments.

He said the realignments apparently adversely affected congressmen identified with ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and former House majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas.

Drilon warned that failing to enact the GAB into law would negatively affect growth as government spending accounts for a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Drilon proposed that upon resumption of Congress session on May 20, the two chambers recall their ratification of the GAB and reconvene the bicameral conference committee to rework the alleged revisions before approving them.

He said it does not matter if the GAB had already been printed as reported by the House, as there had been precedents such as the Coco Levy Fund Bill that was vetoed by Duterte. Asked if he is sure about his proposal, Drilon said “that’s the only remedy.”

Senate’s hidden pork barrel

Turning the tables on the Senate, House leaders claimed senators have their own pork barrel funds concealed in engineering districts but which are made to appear like congressional allocations.

“Funds for engineering districts will again balloon and congressmen will be made to look like the real owners of the funds. The truth is, it’s the senators who placed the funds in congressional districts,” Andaya said in Filipino. He was referring to the P75-billion post-bicam realignments by the Senate.

Andaya scored senators for reportedly vilifying congressmen about alleged insertions after they ratified the budget.

Of the P75 billion, the House disclosed “at least P25 billion was parked as additional fund for the senators’ pet projects in the Department of Public Works and Highways.”

“No details of the parked funds were contained in the bicam report,” he said. “Members of Congress will again be at a loss how the parked funds of the senators found their way to the congressional engineering districts.

“We have no means of extrapolating the proponent senators for these projects since the Senate did not submit the individual names of the proponent per project,” Andaya pointed out, insisting that senators come up with detailed allocations, just like what House members did.

For his part, Rep. Anthony Bravo of party-list Coop-Natcco said the bickering between the two legislative chambers could be rooted in Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s long time animosity toward Speaker Arroyo.

“The way I look at it, in my own assessment, Senator Lacson is holding the budget hostage because of personal vendetta to our Speaker GMA. He has not said anything good about the Speaker, from the very start of her leadership as Speaker,” he told reporters.

“I don’t have any personal grudge or animosity with Senator Lacson. But in my own analysis, I think the agenda is clear: he doesn’t want the Speaker to be successful in her leadership… and it’s the budget (that suffers),” Bravo opined.

Still confident

Amid the squabble between the two chambers, Malacañang said it is hopeful that the government will not operate on a reenacted budget until August.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the administration is optimistic that House and Senate leaders would settle their differences so the budget could be transmitted to the Office of the President.

“I’m sure they (lawmakers) will be agreeing eventually on what to do. All of them are concerned about the welfare of the country,” Panelo said at a press briefing yesterday.

“As we have said earlier on... if the budget is reenacted, we are prepared for that also... Many will be affected. Projects will be delayed,” he added.

Asked what Malacañang would do to prevent a budget reenactment, Panelo replied: “Perhaps, if I will have my educated guess – the President will persuade (them) so that their (row) will be finished, if there is any.”

“But knowing members of Congress, they always agree eventually,” he added.

Panelo said Duterte would exercise his veto power “if he feels that indeed the budget to be given to him does not conform with the Constitution.”

“He will examine the provisions of the budget. And if he feels it does not conform, he will do exactly what he has to do,” the spokesman said.

Pressed if the President would ask lawmakers to do away with the last-minute amendments to the budget, Panelo said: “It’s the President’s call. But as far as I know, he’ll just wait for the enrolled bill to be submitted to him.” – Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero

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