Sotto: Physically impossible to pass budget by Dec. 15
It is “physically impossible” for the Senate to satisfy President Rodrigo \’s reported wish to sign the P3.757-trillion budget for 2019 by mid-December, according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
But it’s not the Senate’s fault, Sotto said on Monday, as he cited logistical problems while blaming the House of Representatives for taking too long in transmitting the general appropriations bill to the chamber.
“Not physically possible. Printing alone takes days. Assuming we are able to pass [the bill] by next week, how about the [bicameral conference committee and printing]?” he said in a text message to reporters.
Sotto was asked whether the Senate and the House could present a ratified, consolidated version of the budget measure by Dec. 15, the date the President reportedly desires to sign the proposed appropriations law.
“[The House] should have considered that when they delayed their transmittal to us,” Sotto said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, objected to the timetable proposed by the Senate leadership to rush passage of the budget, saying it would leave senators only 15 minutes to discuss the budget of each government agency—assuming they worked 24 hours a day with no meal breaks.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said the Senate leadership would allocate enough time for a thorough deliberation on the budget.
“We will not prevent [our peers] from speaking out, but we in the leadership are prepared to work 12-hour days,” he said on Saturday.
But Lacson told the plenary on Monday that the Senate would need to close the period of interpellation on Friday “for 271 items on the agenda [representing] the 271 agencies.”
Even assuming a 24-hour workday from Monday to Friday, he said, it would be a tall order to finish deliberations in that span of time.
“We would be discussing the budget of one agency, one office in 15 minutes, assuming no breakfast break, no lunch break, no dinner break, no merienda (snacks),” he said.
Sotto blamed the leadership transition in the House for the disruption in the budget season.
“The revamp in the Lower House is the major cause of delay,” he said, referring to the transition from the leadership of former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Last year we were [already] starting on the budget by October. This year we are starting on Dec. 4,” Sotto said.
Some senators have warned that two weeks may not be enough time to scrutinize the budget amid allegations of last-minute insertions of “pork barrel allocations.”
Lacson on Monday proposed a Senate caucus to discuss a revision on the timetable.
Zubiri agreed and moved to call the caucus once all other items on the agenda had been dispensed with.
Congress is supposed to have its last session day on Dec. 12, but under a revised timeline, the legislative calendar may be extended by at least another day for ratification by both Houses of the budget measure.
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