By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Senate is hoping that President Duterte will stay true to his promise and not approve the supposed illegal realignments in the enrolled 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Senator Panfilo Lacson said this as he expressed optimism Thursday that the Chief Executive will veto the “unconstitutional” reallocations allegedly made by the House of Representatives after the ratification of the spending bill in both chambers of Congress.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in signing “with strong reservations” the House-prepared copy of the 2019 GAB last Tuesday, sent a 157-page enumeration of the Lower Chamber’s supposed realignments amounting to P75 billion as he urged Duterte to veto these items.
“We’re banking on the commitment of the President — either publicly or when we met with him in Malacañang — that he will never sign anything that is illegal and unconstitutional so we provided him with those data,” Lacson said during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum.
“To be honest about it, yes, we are confident that he will veto ‘yong mga sinabi namin (the items we have mentioned),” he told reporters.
But Lacson said it still up to Duterte whether or not he will heed the senators’ call as they recognized his line-item veto power over the national budget, as stated in the Constitution.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said that the Senate’s “opinion” on the budget would not be insisted to the President.
He, on the other hand, also hopes that Duterte will side with the Senate.
“Sa amin, nagbigay kami ng opinyon na hindi sang-ayon sa Saligang Batas ang ginawang insertions [ng Kamara] pagkatapos ma-ratify ang bicam report. ‘Yan po ang opinyon ng Senado (On our part, we gave our opinion that the insertions by the House after the ratification of the bicam report violate the Constitution. That is the Senate’s opinion),” Drilon said in a televised interview with GMA News Thursday.
“Kung sasang-ayunan ng Pangulo — at sana ay sangayunan niya — pwede niya po i-line item veto itong mga isiningit ng Kamara de Representantes (If the President agrees — and I hope he agrees with us — he can exercise his line-item veto power over the insertions by the House of Representatives),” he added.
The President’s economic managers would have to evaluate and analyze first the contents of the enrolled GAB to make recommendations on the provisions for his approval or veto. “Bahala na sila doon,” Lacson said.
However, Lacson warned the government funds would go to waste should Duterte approve the enrolled budget bill containing the House’s alleged realignments en toto.
“Masasayang ‘yong pera kasi (The money will go to waste because) these are items na hindi (that were not) vetted ng (by the) agencies that will implement,” he said.
“What will happen to those items? It cannot be implemented,” he added, warning that it may result in unused appropriations.
Lacson said Acting Budget Secretary Janet Abuel, during their meeting with congressmen last Monday, told him that the Department of Budget and Management could “hold the release” of funds if they found the projects questionable.
Meanwhile, Sotto denied that he ditched responsibility over the 2019 GAB by signing and transmitting it to Duterte to decide on the contentious issues.
He reacted to a newspaper column published Thursday accusing him and the Senate of copping out of their responsibility for the national budget.
“If you think I copped out after all the explanations and manifestations, you simply dislike me. When you have Lacson, Drilon, Recto, Legarda, Zubiri and Honasan as advisers, you can’t go wrong!” the Senate chief said in a text message to reporters.
“Somebody has sold out, yet again,” Lacson wrote in his Twitter page, also commenting on the newspaper column.