Special Senate session over budget looms

Senate President Vicente Sotto III yesterday raised the possibility of holding a special session to break the impasse over the P3.757-trllion national budget for 2019 as both chambers of Congress continued to trade barbs over alleged pork insertions.

In this scenario, President Rodrigo Duterte could use his veto power over lump-sum appropriations that have been the bone of contention between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

After that, Sotto said Congress could convene a special session to address the vetoed portions and pass a joint resolution approving a supplemental budget.

“We can convene even for one day for a special session and pass a joint resolution approving a supplemental budget for that particular [vetoed] portion of the budget,” he added.

Earlier, Sotto said the House made P96 billion in realignments even after the budget was ratified by the bicameral conference committee.

House Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro on Thursday accused Senator Panfilo Lacson of holding President Duterte and the Filipino people hostage due to his continuing animosity towards Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

As a result, Castro said, Lacson “has obviously convinced the Senate leadership [led by Senator Vicente Sotto III] to do his bidding.”

“I would like to remind our people that the Senate has so far also failed to act on other priority legislation that forms part of the President’s agenda. These include continuing the process of Charter change towards federalism, passing the second tranche of tax reform or [Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion 2], the traffic emergency bill and creating a new Department of Disaster Management,” Castro said.

Given the maneuverings of senators, Castro said, “they want the President to fail.”

“We were elected by our people to pass laws for their benefit, not to indulge in personal vendettas, and least of all to place those vendettas ahead of the job we were elected to do. Let’s heed the President’s call for all of us to do our job and do right by our people,” Castro said.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., on the other hand, lamented the decision of the Senate to restore huge allocations of previous House leaders.

“It pains me to hear that our senators are standing pat on their decision to go back to lump-sum budgeting rather than adopting the more transparent line-item budgeting for the 2019 General

Appropriations Act,” Andaya said.

“Despite the President’s position, I heard from the news that the senators are standing firm on their preference for lump-sum budgeting. Their threat: approve the bicameral conference report with lump-sum funds or suffer the consequences of a reenacted budget,” Andaya said.

The senators, according to Andaya, suggested that Congress return to the old-mode of lump-sum budgeting during their meeting with the President last Tuesday night.

“One of the senators even proposed that we let the President itemize the lump-sum funds for approval in the 2019 GAA, rather than Congress doing such work. I shot down the idea outright, saying lump-sum funds are prone to corruption and are declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The President agreed with my position, saying it was not his duty to itemize the programs and projects in the national budget,” he said.

Should the senators remain steadfast in defending the lump-sum funds, Andaya said this practice will remain and only the favored districts will get their share of the taxpayers’ money.

Also on Thursday, the officer-in-charge of the Budget department, Janet Abuel, said a reenacted budget would not stop them from implementing the fourth tranche of salary increase for government workers. For this to happen, however, President Duterte must first sign an executive order covering the release of funds.

READ: "Lacson delaying budget' 

READ: Duterte holds last-ditch meet to save budget​

Topics: Vicente Sotto III , Rodrigo Duterte , Fredenil Castro , Panfilo Lacson , Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion , Department of Disaster Management
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