Senate won’t let Arroyo, allies tweak final budget – Sotto
The Senate will not allow Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies in the House of Representatives to make any modification to the final version of the P3.8-trillion proposed budget for 2019 that Congress ratified on Feb. 8, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday.
“I am certain that after [Tuesday night], it will be clear what will happen [to the proposed budget],” Sotto told reporters over the phone.
Asked to elaborate, he said: “[It’s] either they (House leaders) remove the internal realignments after the ratification or we have a reenacted budget until July.”
“Our stand is that we [will] send the President what we [have] ratified … That’s the only legal way. There is no other legal way,” Sotto said.
President Rodrigo Duterte called the Senate and House leaders to a meeting in Malacañang on Tuesday night to try to break the deadlock over the budget bill caused by mutual accusations of creating billions of pesos in pork.
The invitation to a meeting came after President Duterte declared on Monday night that he would not sign the budget if it was illegal.
The Senate stand echoed the position of Sen. Panfilo Lacson that altering any portion of the spending bill would be unlawful, as it would violate the Constitution, which bars legislators from changing the contents of legislation they have already approved.
The latest flare-up was sparked by Lacson’s claim that Arroyo fiddled with the national budget’s final version to channel P95 billion in infrastructure allotments to the districts of her allies in the House.
According to Lacson, the Speaker and other House leaders should take their cue from the President’s warning for them to forget about their attempt to alter the approved spending bill.
DPWH projects scrapped
“He (the President) is [right]. What I can’t understand is why the House leadership cannot take the hint from President Duterte himself,” Lacson said on Tuesday.
He said more than P72.3 billion in government projects under the “major final output” of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) were among those scrapped to accommodate the pet projects arbitrarily identified by Arroyo’s allies.
“I would like to think positive, that those concerned will be enlightened and not insist on a constitutionally infirm budget,” Lacson said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President would “just listen” and let the lawmakers “thresh out” their differences over the budget during the meeting.
“He’s just a moderator,” Panelo said, but added that he was just “speculating.”
“He may have brought the two together so they can talk,” he said.
Panelo declined to say whether the alterations made by the House to the approved spending bill was unconstitutional.
“You know, as a lawyer, I always say that there are as many opinions as there are lawyers. It’s a gray area,” Panelo said. “The Supreme Court will have to decide that.”
But the two sides do not have to raise the matter to the Supreme Court, he said. “They can just agree with each other.” —With a report from Julie M. Aurelio
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