By Bernadette D. Nicolas, Butch Fernandez and Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz, March 14 2019; Business Mirror
Image Credit to Business Mirror
A DAY after President Duterte met with lawmakers from both chambers, Malacañang said it is leaving it up to Congress leaders to break the impasse on the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget.
“The Office of the President has yet to receive the enrolled General Appropriations Bill or GAB for this year despite the approval of the Bicameral Conference Committee [Report] of Congress of a version last February 8, 2019,” said Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo in a statement on Wednesday. “Only Congress can resolve and break this impasse.”
“We call on the Senators and Representatives to break the stalemate and deliver to the Filipino people an appropriations law that can aid this government better their lives and help our country move forward,” Panelo added.
Despite the delays in the deliberations on the GAB, Malacañang said the President did not meddle at any instance, consistent with the policy of noninterference with coequal branches of government.
The Palace reiterated that the Executive branch has already performed its constitutional task to submit the proposed 2019 national budget, noting it did so 30 days before the deadline imposed by the law.
The Executive branch also threw its full support with its staff attending committee hearings to make sure that the legislative process would be unhampered and the money measure is approved on time.
“…We await Congress to comply with its constitutional mandate to pass the same,” Panelo said.
Nonetheless, Panelo assured the public that the administration is prepared to cushion the impact of a reenacted budget and that the delivery of public services will be maintained.
“As soon as the enrolled bill on the budget is submitted to the President, the latter will perform his constitutional duty to scrutinize it, and if he finds it in conformity with the constitutional demands, he will sign it,” he said.
At his late Tuesday meeting, with Congress leaders at Malacañang, Duterte had begun the dialogue by saying he would not sign the budget bill if Senate President Vicente Sotto III does not sign it.
Sotto had refused to affix his signature on the documents sent by the House because, according to Senate leaders, House leaders had “manipulated” the final version that was already approved by the bicameral conference committee and ratified separately by both chambers on February 8. Sotto explained that he cannot in conscience sign what he knows to be an inaccurate representation of the supposedly approved final version.
By Wednesday, hours after the Duterte-brokered meeting ended with an inconclusive or soft agreement, Senate leaders were still hesitant to reconvene a bicameral panel, as suggested by their House counterparts, to hammer out a final reconciled Senate-House version of the 2019 budget bill.
“The bottom line for us in the Senate is that we cannot adopt something that is unconstitutional because the provision of the Constitution is clear. Upon the last reading of a bill no amendment thereto shall be allowed. That’s very clear,” Senator Panfilo Lacson told reporters.
He disclosed that some members of the bicameral panel “were still insisting last night that the budget measure is an exception.” Lacson said he replied that “the Constitution does not say ‘except the appropriations measure or revenue measure.’ When you say last reading of a bill, it covers all bills, including appropriations and revenue measures where the President may exercise line- item veto.” Lacson said senators were puzzled why the HOR waited until the BCC-approved measure was ratified before they realigned. “The problem with realignment is that’s basically an amendment.”
He cited a P72.319-billion appropriations intended for the DPWH. “This is what they touched. And reallocated to the districts. I said, ‘Mr. President, what is bad here is the Build, Build, Build is your legacy program. Because the substantial amount of P72 billion was reallocated to districts, Build, Build, Build will be derailed’.”
He cited the Asset Preservation Program (maintenance of bridges, roads, buildings), Network Program (road networks, primary roads) among the substantial items touched. “The DPWH studied this well and presented it to the Cabinet and DBCC [Development Budget Coordination Committee]. And it was approved by the Cabinet. So why should congressmen suddenly remove the P72 billion?” Lacson asked.
Asked how much was reallocated, Lacson replied the net increase added up to P95 billion. He took issue with Rep. Fredenil Castro’s rebuke to senators not to meddle with their affairs. The Senate, said Lacson, must take a stand because “it’s unconstitutional. That’s
everybody’s concern. Since we have a bicameral system of government, the Senate cannot but intervene because what we will submit to Malacañang as an enrolled bill is the same enrolled bill the Speaker of the HOR has already signed. We will not also allow our SP to be exposed to possible criminal charges or criminal investigation later on because that’s tantamount to falsification of the records of the legislative process. What is being certified when one signs an enrolled bill, is that the contents were the ones approved in plenary, which it is not. What we approved did not include their amendments because that’s post-bicameral.”
In a news conference on Wednesday, Castro said, however, the House is firm in its position that there is nothing unconstitutional in itemizing lump sums in the 2019 national budget after ratification.
“Members of both chambers signified to the President that they will follow his suggestion so that in a few days’ time, the budget is finalized,” he said. “We were able to finish the discussion. And then the President added it’s the ballgame of Congress to finish it in a manner which is more or most convenient, or to which they are both comfortable,” he added.
During the meeting with the President, Castro said that there was no such finding that the House was at fault in itemizing the lump-sum appropriation in the committee report after the ratification. “It‘s still itemized because it is not unconstitutional and it is not illegal,” he added.
“That is still period of legislation, whereas if the President has already approved the budget, that is the period of execution; therefore that would be post-enactment,” Castro said.
At the same time, House members challenged Sotto to exercise transparency by ordering colleagues to give the breakdown of their alleged P75-billion “post-bicameral realignment” under the 2019 national budget.
According to Castro, Lacson suggested retaining the lump-sum appropriations in the bicameral report and just allowing the President to itemize the projects which may be covered by the lump-sum appropriations.
“[However] to this suggestion, [House Committee on Appropriations Chairman] Rep. Rolando Andaya expressed reservation as this would be unconstitutional. This proposal of Senator Lacson did not sit well with the President because, quoting the President, he does not want to be involved in allocating projects,” Castro explained.
“The President said, ‘I cannot, that’s the job of Congress. You resolve the impasse, you finish the budget’,” he added.
House Deputy Minority Leader and COOP-Natcco Party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo, a member of the bicameral conference committee on the national budget, said senators “should also show transparency and honesty from their end.”
He noted that senators even failed to identify themselves as proponents of the proposed infrastructure projects worth P21 billion under the national budget. Earlier, Andaya said the Senate allegedly made post-bicameral realignments worth P75 billion.
Andaya said the Senate only submitted its list of projects on February 11, 2019 or three days after both chambers ratified the bicameral panel-approved version.
Bernadette D. Nicolas, Butch Fernandez and Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz