Budget bill up for Duterte scrutiny, finally

President Rodrigo Duterte will scrutinize the proposed 2019 national budget before signing it amid alleged last-minute amendments, the Palace said on Tuesday, assuring the public that the spending bill will be in accordance with the Constitution.

As he commended the members of Congress for submitting an enrolled bill to the Executive department, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Duterte will have to evaluate whether or not the provisions of the enrolled bill submitted by the Congress are in keeping with the Constitution.

“The Senate says it’s illegal, right? Unconstitutional. And the President says he will not sign anything unconstitutional as far as he is concerned. He will need to evaluate whether or not the opinion of the Senate is indeed correct. It depends, the President is a lawyer,” Panelo told Palace reporters.

“That’s his judgment call, he will have to review the enrolled bill and if it’s consistent with the Constitution, he will sign it.”

Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III submitted his signed and enrolled copy of the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget. Sotto, however, attached a letter explaining his “strong reservations” on the itemized P75 billion worth of public works projects.

“It is my view that it is unconstitutional that P75 billion worth of programs/projects under the Local Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways was funded through internal realignments,” Sotto said in his letter to the President.

According to the Senate leader, the supposed unconstitutional budget realignment was made after the Bicameral Conference Committee Report was ratified by realigning cuts from several programs including asset preservation, network development, bridge, flood management, and convergence and support programs.

“The President may wish to consider disapproving these unconstitutional realignments, pursuant to his constitutional power to veto particular items in the General Appropriations Bill,” he added, attaching a list of P95 billion worth of public works program that includes the alleged P75-billion realignments.

Asked if congressional leaders are putting the President in an awkward position, Panelo said “no.”

“They just performed their duty,” he said.

“Their job is to pass the bill, the President’s budget. If they have done that, then the ball is in the hands of the President,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the Palace appealed on both chambers of the Congress to break the stalemate after legislative leaders failed to thresh out their differences during the meeting with the President.

But now, with the enrolled bill submitted to the Palace for Duterte’s signature, Panelo said, they have already settled their differences.

He said the President would decide on the budget “maybe in a few days.”

Currently, the government is operating under a reenacted budget after lawmakers failed to approve the P3.7-trillion expenditure plan before their Christmas break due to supposed insertions.

The Palace said it hoped that the government will not run on a reenacted budget until August this year, reiterating its negative effects on the country.

The deadlock on the proposed 2019 national budget was caused by the quarreling over the last-minute amendments made by the House of Representatives to the bill after the bicameral conference committee approved it.

Sotto earlier refused to sign the budget after Senator Panfilo Lacson claimed that House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo realigned P25 billion to favor certain lawmakers, a claim she denied.

Before signing the 2019 national budget, Sotto, together with Senators Franklin Drilon, Miguel Zubiri, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, and Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto met with leaders of the House to end the impasse.

Drilon proposed the idea of signing the bill with reservations, and the other senators agreed.

The enrolled bill was the one submitted by the House with realignments that Sotto and Lacson said were illegal.

The House maintains they were merely itemizing lump sum funds, something that is done in every budget.

Sotto and Lacson said they recognize President Duterte’s authority and said it was up to him to approve or veto the realignments by the congressmen.

READ: Friday deadline slated on budget

READ: House, Senate try again to end budget impasse

READ: Speaker: I never micromanaged 2019 budget bill

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , 2019 national budget , Salvador Panelo , Vicente Sotto III
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