By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Leaders of the House of Representatives accused on Sunday the Senate of “crippling” President Duterte’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program and jeopardizing his pro-people reforms, including the passage of the 2019 national budget.
Camarines Sur Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said the Senate’s unilateral decision to remove P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects would compromise the administration’s key infrastructure projects.
“The Senate’s removal of P17-billion worth of right-of-way funding will be the greatest stumbling block for the President’s infrastructure master plan. Without the knowledge of and consent from the House of Representatives, the Senate removed P12 billion of these funds from the DPWH and P5 billion from the DOTr,” he said.
“How can projects be started without these right-of way-payments? Billions of pesos worth of roads will never begin construction even if these projects are fully-funded,” he pointed out.
He dared the senators to break their silence and explain the supposed removal of P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects.
“What’s worse, the Senate has yet to inform the House where they realigned the right-of-way funds which were taken out of the National Expenditure Program. Saan ba talaga napunta ang mga pondong ito? Up to this very moment, the senators are also silent on who are the individual proponents for their realignments,” Andaya said.
He noted that such realignments were made after both chambers ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the 2019 national budget.
“I urge the senators to speak up on this issue. The taxpaying public deserves to know where their money will be spent,” he said.
The former House majority leader stressed that that the House’s “line-itemized budgeting “will not cripple” the Duterte government’s BBB projects.
“What may stall the acceleration of the infrastructure spending was the Senate’s unilateral decision to remove P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects,” he said.
On the alleged realignment by the House of DPWH funds, Andaya assured that “the funds were there and were never taken out of the public works’ budget.”
“Every single centavo allocated for infrastructure projects were accounted for, line-by-line for each project per district, in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill,” he said.
Majority Floor Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro also took a swipe at the Senate for derailing the passage of President Duterte’s priority legislation, particularly for its failure to sign the spending measure.
“Mula noon hanggang ngayon, si Speaker GMA ang kakampi ng Pangulong Duterte. Sino ba ang humaharang ng budget? Napirmahan na ni Speaker GMA noon pang isang linggo. Pirma na lang ni Tito Sotto ang wala at nagmamatigas sya na hindi nya ito pipirmahan. Sino ngayon ang humaharang at nilalagay sa alanganin ang bayan?” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said he would not be signing the P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget amid allegations that the House made realignments to the ratified version of the spending measure.
Citing a report from the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO), Sotto said some P79 billion realignments under the ratified national budget included adjustments in the funding for local infrastructure projects and operations. He described such realignments as “a violation of the Constitution.”
Andaya earlier turned the tables on the Senate, saying that Senate has post-bicameral realignment amounting to P75 billion to the P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget, P25-billion of which was parked in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Sotto had denied such allegation.
Castro maintained that there is nothing illegal with the 2019 national budget.
“Ang 2019 budget ay constitutional at naaayon sa Supreme Court decision. Ito rin ang ginawa ng mga nakaraang Speakers – sila Bebot Alvarez at Sonny Belmonte. Walang pinagka-iba. Pareho lang,” he said.
He even scored the Senate for failing to pass President Duterte’s priority legislation, including charter change and the proposed Traffic Crisis Act.
“Si Speaker GMA ang nagsusulong sa agenda ng Pangulo. Pinasa lahat nya ang priority legislation ni President Duterte. Ang TRAIN, Charter Change, Traffic Bill at marami pa. Lahat ng ito ay hindi pa napapasa sa Senado,” Castro said.