Sotto to Lower House: ‘See you next congress’

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

“See you next Congress,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III warned the House of Representatives as he put his foot down about not signing a manipulated 2019 budget.

Sotto made the remark in reaction to the House’s firm stance and fresh allegations against the Senate regarding the post-ratification “itemizations” in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), a day after their meeting with President Duterte on Tuesday.

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 (CZAR DANCEL / MANILA BULLETIN)

“If they will not change then we will just see them next Congress,” Sotto said in a text message to reporters on Wednesday.

In an interview with CNN Philippines aired Thursday, the Senate chief said he was “surprised” learning from House leaders that they are standing by their realignments and refuse to heed the proposal raised by Senator Panfilo Lacson to recall the enrolled copy of the spending bill, revert to the version ratified by both Congress chambers, and let Duterte veto the supposed lump sum appropriations in the GAB.

Sotto said the Senate will not move unless the House heeds and sticks to the “original” provisions of the bicam-approved budget bill.

“Well, it’s their own lookout, as far as we are concerned, we are expecting them to recall what they sent,” he maintained.

‘Realigned, not itemized’

Sotto also took exception on the claims made by House Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rodante Marcoleta and described them as an attempt to confuse people on the “real issue” on the congressional budget row.

Marcoleta had said that the Senate, of its P72 billion supposed realignments in the 2019 budget, reallocated P19 billion of it without the Lower Chamber’s knowledge.

“They are obfuscating the real issue,” Sotto said. See you next Congress,” he repeated.

Sotto reiterated that senators did their realignments and itemizations during the plenary discussions on the government expenditure program, way before the bicameral conference committee and their ratification of the budget last February 8.

Turning anew the table on the House, Sotto said congressmen “did not did not itemize, they REALIGNED.”

In the televised interview, the Senate chief said they found that the Lower Chamber reallocated about P96 billion in the ratified GAB to congressional districts, of which P72 billion was drawn from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways that leads the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

Sotto said he is okay with itemizing lump sum appropriations, but said it should be done before ratifying the GAB.

He said some 60 congressmen also complained about the post-bicam “internal realignments”.

Lacson earlier accused the House of realigning some P95 billion funds in the 2019 budget to reward those who supported House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Sotto believed that the May 13 midterm election was a “major factor” for the said realignments.

Special session

In pushing for Lacson’s proposal to the House, Sotto said Congress can hold a special session to pass a measure granting supplemental budget for the appropriations that might be vetoed by the President.

“Right after the President signs it. Kung magkakasundo nga, alisin yung sinasabi, pipirmahan ko, ipapadala namin sa Presidente, ang gagawin ng Presidente, heto, lump sum ito, veto ko. Yung vineto niya, hindi naman mawawala yun, it will remain there and therefore we can convene into a special session, and address that particular portion of the budget,” he explained.

Sotto urged the congressmen to accept their proposal while they were in power, noting that Arroyo is on her third and last term.