Sotto: Budget approval 'all in the President's hands'
MANILA - House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. has asked Malacañang and the Department of Budget and Management to assail Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s “conditional” signing of the 2019 budget bill.
Sotto earlier signed the proposed P3.7-trillion national budget for 2019 but with "strong reservations." He also expressed hope for President Rodrigo Duterte to veto questionable items in the spending bill, particularly the alleged P75 billion in pork barrel insertions.
In a statement accompanying the letter he sent to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and acting Budget Secretary Janet Abuel, Andaya said Sotto was ill-advised by his lawyers.
“The letter he sent to the President expressing his ‘strong reservations’ as annotation in the 2019 National Budget enrolled bill has no legal basis. It is just a personal request, which the President may or may not take heed,” Andaya said in a statement.
Andaya said he emphasized to the two officials that there is no such thing as "conditional signing of an enrolled bill."
“The Senate cannot clothe his signature to the 2019 General Appropriations Bill with ambivalence or dissent,” Andaya said.
Andaya explained that signing an enrolled copy of the national budget is “a legal act so the imprimatur of the Senate President on the enrolled bill cannot be diminished by his ‘strong reservations.’”
“For one, the realignments he cited were adjustments authorized by no less than the Bicameral Conference Committee Report, which was approved and signed by the conferees from both chambers,” Andaya said.
Andaya added that the Committee Report included a traditional Omnibus Motion which allows the correction of “typographical, grammatical and printing errors, as well as the necessary adjustments as a consequence of the amendments."
Andaya noted that the generic term "adjustments" subsumes realignments and allied modifications.
“Budget adjustment refers to any addition or reduction made in the budget while budget realignment is the process of adjusting the original budget,” he said.
Andaya emphasized that the realignments made by the House did not exceed the expenditure ceilings of respective departments and agencies as approved in the Bicameral Conference Committee Report.
He also pointed out that the Omnibus Motion had been incorporated in previous Bicameral Reports for decades and institutionalized realignments pursuant to the ratified Bicameral Report.
“Thus, our firm position that the adjustments made by the House are not post-ratification realignments as they were expressly authorized by the ratified Bicameral Report,” Andaya said.
“We also maintain that the realignments, which the Senate also made, are fully constitutional as part of the budgetary process, and there is no constitutional provision which has been violated, as none was cited by the Senate President.”
In a statement, Sotto said the said Omnibus motion "only applies to them not the entire Congress."
"Bottom line is they touched something they shouldn't have after ratification. What they did affected their colleagues that's why they complained to us, aside from the fact that LBRMO (Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office) saw a red flag. But all their talks are now water under the bridge," Sotto said Wednesday afternoon.
He said the budget approval was "all in the President's hands."
"I washed mine. At the end of the day the Senate exercised its power to scrutinize and challenge what is spurious in the budget. It also proves that the Senate is still and will remain independent. The Senate will let the President decide on the submitted budget.”
The Makabayan bloc, for its part, pointed out that the continuing exchanges between the House and Senate leadership over the budget is but a manifestation of the power struggle within the administration.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said the struggle is between the group of House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Duterte’s economic managers who he believes now appear to be allied with Sotto.
Tinio said it appears the President is not in full control of his allies in Congress.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, said Duterte is bound to antagonize one faction when he decides on the budget.
Both Tinio and Zarate, however, believe that both the House and Senate versions of the budget bill are laden with “pork barrel.”
Tinio suspects the budget will not become law until after the elections. He said this would allow the President to generate savings he can realign from projects that were already funded last year.
“Puwedeng-puwede niyang gamiting kasangkapan ang kaniyang reenacted budget bilang incentives sa kampaniya,” Tinio said.
(He can use that as a tool for incentives during the campaign.)
Sotto had earlier refused to sign the budget after Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed that House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo realigned P25 billion to favor certain lawmakers, which she denied.
Lacson earlier said some P75 billion in total funds had been realigned by the House to various lawmakers under the spending bill.
The amount was earlier questioned by House members as an alleged insertion by former Budget Secretary and now Bangko Sentral Governor Benjamin Diokno into the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways, delaying deliberations.
Diokno denied any irregularity in the budget increase.