By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Upper Chamber will stand firm on its position against the “itemization” done by House of Representatives to the proposed 2019 national budget.
“Our stand is that, we send to the President what we ratified…That’s the only way, that’s the only legal way. There is no other legal way. You cannot touch the budget or any law after it was ratified by both Houses already,” Sotto said in a phone interview with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“Dapat ginawa niyo yan bago niratify, bakit ang bilis bilis nila magratify pagkatapos ay magtatagal sila ng pag print at pag-enroll?” he said, questioning anew the House’s defense.
Sotto and other senators are set to meet with President Duterte Tuesday night to discuss the long-languishing stalemate between the Senate and House on the P3.757-trillion outlay for this year. House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was also reportedly invited.
The Senate chief said he expects the discussion to clarify what would happen to the 2019 budget.
“Which is either they remove the internal realignments after the ratification, or we have a reenacted budget until July,” he said.
While he refuses to consider it as an ultimatum, Sotto said he leaves it to the House leaders to decide whether or not to accept the Senate’s stand.
“It’s up to them to accept or not to accept our proposal. I will also leave it to the President to whether or not to accept their explanation,” he said.
He said he will also wait for his colleagues’ reaction before he decides whether or not to agree with the enrollment of the budget bill for President Duterte’s signature.
Sotto, meanwhile, denied that the Senate itemized P75-billion worth of supposed realignments to the budget as alleged by House appropriations committee chair and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., in an apparent attempt to turn the table on the senators.
He said Upper Chamber’s amendments were itemized before its approval, reiterating that the ratified spending bill do not anymore contain lump sum appropriations.
“Wala naman ganon eh. Maliwanag na eh. Papayag ba kaming iratify yung bicam [report] kung malabo? Maliwanag eh. Binago lang nila eh — Binabago pala nila (There were no lump sum appropriations. It was clear. Would we ratify the bicam report if it was vague? It was clear. They only tinkered with it — or tinkering with it, rather),” Sotto said.
Sotto added the Andaya merely presented an attendance sheet when he claimed that the Senate’s itemization were submitted February 11, days after the ratification of the budget.
“‘Yong pinakita niya attendance sheet ‘yon eh, tinanong ko sa LBRMO (Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office)…’Yong sinasabi na nakalista doon [sa budget], nakapasok na before the ratification,” he said.
“Before it went to the bicameral [committee] wala nang ginagalaw ang Senate (the Senate did not touch anything),” he maintained.
Sotto repeated that there was no need for the Senate to provide Andaya a list of the proponents of its amendments because he could refer to the Senate’s journals.
The amendments, he noted, were placed on Senate records since these were discussed during their plenary deliberation on the budget.
The individual amendments were also submitted before the bicameral committee meeting, he added.