No end in sight in squabble between Senate, House on proposed 2019 national budget

Published March 11, 2019, 5:13 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola 

The P3.757-trillion proposed 2019 national budget may not see the light of day anymore should the House of Representatives insist on revising the measure after its ratification, Senate President Vicente Sotto III warned on Monday.

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III gestures after elected as a newly Senate President at Senate Building in Pasay city, May 21,2018.(Czar Dancel)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III

Sotto floated anew the possibility that the government could operate on a reenacted or supplemental budget for the rest of the year if the Senate proves that congressmen manipulated the Congress-ratified 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

He reiterated his call to keep the version that was approved by both houses of Congress amid concerns that introducing changes to the budget bill post-ratification would violate the Constitution.

“The possiblity [of having a reenacted budget] is really looming now kung hindi ibabalik doon sa pinasa namin (if they do not retain the version that we passed),” the Senate chief said in an interview with reporters Monday.

Sotto said he already sent word to House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that he was expecting the Lower Chamber to bring the “original” version of the ratified GAB to the Senate. Arroyo has yet to respond.

He said he also refuses to sign a revised GAB, and enroll it for President Duterte’s approval or veto, as appealed by House appropriations committee chair and Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya Jr.

He said would rather inform Duterte that the final copy of the bill was not the one approved by the legislative branch.

“Alam ng presidente yan. Pag hindi ‘yon ang pinasa namin sa bicam, eh sino ang tama ngayon?” Sotto said.

Sotto said senators may still have to deliberate on the budget bill when they continue session after the May elections. Congress will resume on May 20, and will adjourn sine die on June 8.

If the House refuses to retain the bicam-approved GAB, and he fails to sign it within the 17th Congress, Sotto said the measure would have to be archived and be refiled anew in the 18th Congress.

“We can pass a supplemental budget for the rest of the year,” Sotto also proposed.

Sotto, meanwhile, was unconvinced with Andaya’s defense that they were merely “itemizing” the Lower House’s amendments to the GAB, and that this was “perfect legal.”

“Then why were there decreases and increases?” asked Sotto, as he questioned the need to itemize the allocations in the government spending bill.

Congressmen should have done the itemization during the bicameral meeting, and before they ratified the bill, he said.

Aside from the findings of the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) he earlier cited, Sotto said a “few” House members also complained about the adjustments in the allocations of congressional districts “being done by the House appropriations committee and the Speaker’s office.”

The realignments, he maintained, total to some P79 billion.

Among those who sought him out were Northern Samar First District Rep. Raul Daza and Zamboanga del Sur Second District Rep. Aurora Cerilles, whose constituencies were affected by the supposed manipulation of the 2019 budget.

According to Sotto, the lawmaker-tipsters spoke for “many other” representatives from Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon.

He also denied that the GAB contained appropriations in lump sums, as alleged by Andaya, who turned the table against senators for supposedly not being transparent about their own amendments.

“Lahat ng ginagawa nila sa House binibintang nila sa amin (The House is accusing us of things that they are actually doing). We assure not a single centavo was touched after we ratified the budget,” Sotto said.

He repeated his challenge to the Lower Chamber: “Kung totoo yung sinasabi nila at ang tingin nila legal ang ginagawa nila, eh ‘di pirmahan nila. Submit nila sa amin dito (If congressmen believe that what they’re doing on the 2019 budget is legal, then sign it. Submit it to us).”