Duterte intervention fails to break budget deadlock
President Rodrigo Duterte’s intervention on Tuesday night failed to break the monthlong deadlock between the Senate and the House of Representatives over pork in the P3.8-trillion budget for 2019, raising the possibility of making good his threat to veto the spending bill if it was illegal.
Senators on Wednesday said the likelihood of the government operating on a reenacted 2018 budget for the first seven months of 2019 became more real with the failure of Tuesday night’s talks in Malacañang.
Or it could be for the whole year if the President vetoed the budget bill.
“I’ve already said my piece,” the President, speaking in the Palace on Monday night, quoted himself as telling the lawmakers during the debate on the budget proposal. “I would not sign anything that would be an illegal document.”
“Since nothing was settled, we’re now back to where we were before we went to Malacañang,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson told reporters on Wednesday.
“So it’s still a stalemate because if the House would insist on considering their printed copy [of the spending bill] as the enrolled bill, it will not reach Malacañang,” he said.
“The bottom line here is pork, pork, pork. It’s that simple,” he added, referring to the discretionary funds for legislators that the Supreme Court outlawed in 2013.
Lacson said Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo might be held criminally liable for signing the budget document that contained modifications unlawfully made after Congress ratified it on Feb. 8.
Earlier, Lacson said Arroyo funneled some P95 billion in infrastructure funds that had been allotted to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Health (DOH) to projects arbitrarily identified by her allies in the House.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday that his chamber would not allow Arroyo and her allies to make any modification to the ratified final version of the budget bill.
“[E]ither they (House leaders) remove the internal realignments after the ratification or we have a reenacted budget until July,” he said.
On Wednesday, Sotto said the President himself opened Tuesday night’s meeting by expressing his desire to end the standoff between the Senate and the House.
“The moment he sat in the meeting, [the President] directly told us, ‘I want to break the impasse. But I want you to know that I will not sign anything if the Senate President will not sign it. So how do we resolve this?’”
Echoing Lacson, Sotto said that if the House leaders wanted to break the stalemate, they should respect the final version of the spending bill that Congress had ratified.
“My point is that after we have ratified it, it was then that (the House) made the changes. I even told the President that the budget for [his infrastructure projects] was siphoned off to the congressional districts,” Sotto said.
No reconvening conference
“To cut a long story short, it was the suggestion of Senator Lacson that gained our support. [Lacson] said that if we want to resolve all this, we have to revert to the original form [of the budget], the one that we had agreed on and ratified by the bicameral (conference) committee,” he said.
Lacson said Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, flatly denied the claims of her House counterpart, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., that the senators modified the budget after it was adopted by the conference committee.
He said Legarda also rejected a proposal for the Senate-House conference to reconvene because it would just legitimize the congressmen’s pork.
Earlier, Andaya said all the House did was to itemize the changes they had introduced in the budget.
The House leaders stood by that claim during the meeting in Malacañang, according to House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro. —With a report from Melvin Gascon
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