The Senate on Friday backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to veto the 2019 appropriations bill
over pork barrel insertions as his economic managers prepared to operate under a reenacted budget.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday said he initially proposed a veto of the P3.8-trillion national budget for 2019 due to an apparent deadlock over allegations of illegal pork barrel insertions.
“Do you remember that that was my original suggestion when it came to my attention that the House leaders were being difficult?” said Sotto when sought for comment on Duterte’s threat to veto the budget.
If the President vetoes the budget, Sotto said, outgoing lawmakers involved in the illegal realignments will lose all their pork.
A reenacted budget, he added, would erase all pork barrel in the budget.
Sotto guaranteed support for the President’s decision. “Anyway, we can pass a new one [a budget] in the next Congress with new leaders,” he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who first criticized the House for pork barrel insertions, said it is well within the President’s legal authority to veto in whole or in parts the enrolled budget bill sent to his office.
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Lacson said he is ready for the next budget battle when the 2020 spending plan is submitted by the President at the opening of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress.
But he also shared the worries of the President’s economic team that a reenacted budget would slow down the economy.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, on the other hand, said the country will survive a year without a budget by operating under the previous year’s budget.
“Vetoing this year’s entire budget can also be the executive’s way of saying to Congress to “get your act together,” he said.
Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the veto is the President’s prerogative. “We will respect whatever his decision will be,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon agreed.
“That is how our system is outlined in the Constitution—the President has the final say,” he said.
Senator Grace Poe, on the other hand, said she believes it would be better if the President vetoes only the objectionable provisions.
She said a reenacted budget id difficult because there are many programs that will be adversely affected.
Malacañang on Friday said the country’s economic managers are preparing for the possible repercussions of a re-enacted budget.
“Our economic managers have contingency plans prepared, responsive to any conceivable event, and they will correspondingly adjust their targets, which include the execution of programs and projects relating to infrastructure as well as the delivery of basic services to the people,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
Panelo, also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, clarified that Duterte’s remarks on vetoing the budget will only happen “ if there is a finding by him of any legal or constitutional infirmity relative to the provisions of the same transmitted to his office by Congress.”
“As a lawyer and strict enforcer of the rule of law, the President treads cautiously in performing his constitutional duty making sure that before he inks his signature to the document, the latter does not violate our Constitution, as well as related jurisprudence on the matter,” he said.
He noted the serious accusations hurled by the House of Representatives and the Senate against each other on certain unconstitutional insertions.
“The Office of the President is exercising utmost care in the review and evaluation of the GAB (general appropriations bill). It is poring over the details of the document and checking which items therein may be constitutionally infirm or legally unacceptable pursuant to the President’s power and duty to ensure that the law is enforced and the Constitution is free from any violation,” he said.
The government has been operating on a re-enacted budget since Jan. 1 after lawmakers failed to pass the bill last year due to allegations of pork “insertions.”
The passage of the 2019 budget was further stalled due to allegations of last-minute amendments made by the House after both chambers of Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report.
Sotto earlier announced that he has signed the proposed P3.8 trillion national budget “with strong reservations.”
Sotto appealed to Duterte to veto “unconstitutional” provisions amid allegations that some P75 billion had been realigned by the House of Representatives to benefit various lawmakers.
The Department of Budget and Management said the Constitution authorizes the President to veto any bill, but the National Economic and Development Authority had earlier warned that a full-year reenacted budget can slow the economy’s growth to 4.2 percent to 4.9 percent.
The NEDA chief also emphasized that a reenacted budget will create a delay in both new and ongoing infrastructure projects. Implementation of public social services such as the Unconditional Cash Transfer and Pantawid Pasada Programs will also be hampered.
“The government would not be able to quickly execute programs and projects. This means that we will miss the opportunity to create as much as 180,000 to 240,000 more jobs and fail to lift as much as 400,000 to 550,000 more Filipinos out of poverty this year,” Pernia said.
At a campaign rally in Bacolod City, the President said he would not hesitate to veto the budget if he finds any anomalies.
“Look at the budget. The budget was just submitted to me. I have to sign it when I get there [in Manila]. I’m still studying it. From the Budget [department] to the Office of the President. The Office of the President is not the Budget. So my legal [team] will review it again,” he said.
“Now, if that’s distorted, I will outright veto the entire budget. I will really look into those insertions. If it’s really anomalous, I will not hesitate to veto the entire budget,” he said.
Amid threats of a veto, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez of Quezon said the proposed 2019 national budget as approved by the House of Representatives is “as legal as can be.”
“We maintain that the budget was drafted and passed by the House of Representatives according to long-established and duly constituted legislative processes,” Suarez said.
The House religiously followed all laws, regulations, and jurisprudence governing budget preparation, including the most recent—the Supreme Court ruling that banned lumpsum appropriations, said Suarez.
“And we stand ready to address any concerns that the Palace may have in its review of the 2019 [general appropriations bill],” he said.
He added the House under the leadership of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo observed great care to make it responsive to the needs of the people.
For his part, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr., chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said Congress has included a fourth book in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill “in the interest of transparency and accountability.”
Once the President signs the 2019 General Appropriations Act, Andaya said the fourth budget book with itemized allocation for programs and projects will be out in the open.
“The new book, which is part of the budget reforms initiated by the current House leadership, contains the list of itemized allocation for programs and projects under the 2019 GAB,” Andaya said.
House Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, meanwhile, said the House under Arroyo’s leadership has been supportive of the President’s legislative agenda.
Amid “downright intrigues and bizarre accusations,” the House worked hard to enhance transparency and accountability in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill Castro said.
“This move is in sync with President Duterte’s strong and unflinching stance against corruption and wastage of public funds. The [House] firmly supports President Digong’s action on the GAB,” Castro said.
Andaya said the House will respect whatever is the decision of President Duterte on the 2019 national budget.
“The President knows what is best for the country and our people,” Andaya said.
“If President Duterte eventually decides to adopt a reenacted budget throughout the year, that will give him an opportunity to restore more than P80 billion which was slashed by the Senate from allocations intended for the President’s projects. After all, that is the President’s budget and his priorities should not be tinkered with,” he added.
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