By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo insisted Monday there was nothing illegal with the ratified P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget, saying that Lower Chamber’s line-itemized budgeting was “constitutional.”
She disclosed that San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora was negotiating with the Senate in as far as the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) is concerned.
“The budget, actually we left it to Ronnie Zamora to negotiate with the Senate. But what we can say is that the process that we followed was constitutional,” Arroyo told reporters after attending the House joint panel on water crisis in some parts of Metro Manila and Rizal.
“We would never put the President in a position of signing an unconstitutional bill,” she said, as the Senate leadership decided not to sign the spending measure amid allegations that the House made realignments to the ratified version of the 2019 national budget.
President Duterte earlier said he would not sign an illegal document.
Arroyo, the country’s first woman Speaker, said the House cannot give in to lump sum allocation, which was declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
“It’s the same process that was done even before I was Speaker ever since the Supreme Court ruled that lump sums are unconstitutional. We cannot agree to a lump sum allocation,” she said.
Citing the report from the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO), Senate President Vicente Sotto III said some P79 billion realigments under the ratified national budget included adjustments in the funding for local infrastructure projects and operations. He described such realigments as “a violation of the Constitution.”
Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. then turned the tables on the Senate, saying that Senate had its own post-bicameral realignment amounting to P75 billion to the P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget. The Bicol solon added P25-billion of this realignment was “parked” in the budget of the Departmenf of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Sotto has denied such allegation.
Andaya and Majority Floor Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, earlier, accused the Senate of “crippling” the President Duterte’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program and jeopardizing his pro-people reforms, including the passage of the 2019 national budget.
Andaya said the Senate’s unilateral decision to remove P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects will compromise the Chief Executive’s key infrastructure projects.
“Without the knowledge of and consent from the House of Representatives, the Senate removed P12 billion of these funds from the DPWH and P5 billion from the DOTr,” he said in a statement.
“How can projects be started without these right-of way-payments? Billions of pesos worth of roads will never begin construction even if these projects are fully-funded,” he pointed out.
He dared the senators to break their silence, and explain the supposed removal of P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects.
Andaya noted that such realignments were made after both chambers ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the 2019 national budget.
“I urge the senators to speak up on this issue. The taxpaying public deserves to know where their money will be spent,” he said.
The former House majority leader stressed that that the House’s “line-itemized budgeting “will not cripple” Duterte government’s BBB projects.
“What may stall the acceleration of the infrastructure spending was the Senate’s unilateral decision to remove P17 billion for the right-of-way funding of BBB projects,” he said.
On the alleged realignment by the House of DPWH funds, Andaya assured that “the funds were there and were never taken out of the public works’ budget.”
“Every single centavo allocated for infrastructure projects were accounted for, line-by-line for each project per district, in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill,” he said.
Castro also took a swipe at the Senate for derailing the passage of President Duterte’s priority legislation, particularly for its failure to sign the spending measure.
“Mula noon hanggang ngayon, si Speaker GMA ang kakampi Ng Pangulong Duterte.Sino ba ang humaharang ng budget? Napirmahan na ni Speaker GMA noon pang isang linggo. Pirma na lang ni Tito Sotto ang wala at nagmamatigas sya na hindi nya Ito pipirmahan. Sino ngayon ang humaharang at nilalagay sa alanganin ang bayan?,” he said in a separate statement.
Castro maintained that there was nothing illegal with the 2019 national budget.
“Ang 2019 budget ay constitutional at naaayon sa Supreme Court decision. Ito rin ang ginawa ng mga nakaraang Speaker -sila Bebot Alvarez at Sonny Belmonte. Walang pinagka-iba. Pareho lang,” he said.
He even scored the Senate for failing to pass President’s priority legislation, including the Charter change and proposed Traffic Crisis Act.
“Si Speaker GMA ang nagsusulong sa agenda ng Pangulo. Pinasa lahat nya ang priority legislation President Duterte. Ang TRAIN, Charter Change, Traffic Bill at marami pa. Lahat ng ito ay hindi pa napapasa sa Senado,” Castro said.