Sotto proposes supplemental budget for 2019
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday proposed a possible solution to the standoff between the Senate and the House of Representatives over irregular amendments to the much-delayed national spending bill for 2019 that would entail calling a special session of Congress to pass a supplemental budget.
Sotto has refused to sign the P3.8-trillion proposed 2019 budget sent over by the House because of the alleged amendments introduced after the ratification of the bicameral report, a violation of the Constitution.
House leaders have insisted that they just itemized the lump-sum amounts in the measure.
A meeting between the congressional leaders called by President Duterte on Tuesday failed to resolve the impasse.
Sotto said in a television interview that Sen. Panfilo Lacson suggested during the meeting at the Palace that the House remove the realignments they made after the ratification and then the Senate would sign the budget bill and submit it to the President.
Duterte could veto the lump-sum appropriations if these were present, and then both houses of Congress could hold a special session and approve a supplemental budget covering the items that had been vetoed, Sotto said.
“What the President vetoed won’t be gone, it will remain there and therefore, we can convene into a special session and address that particular portion of the budget,” he said.
The special session can be called as soon as Mr. Duterte signs the budget or vetoes any portion of it.
“They can do that, [the House members] are in office until June 30,” Sotto said.
He urged the House members to agree to the proposal.
“I think they should accept our suggestion because after June 30, we would be talking to a different set of people,” Sotto said.
Unless the standoff gets resolved, the government will continue to operate on the reenacted 2018 budget. The government’s economic managers have warned that this could lead to a lower growth rate for the country because crucial infrastructure projects would not be funded.
They have cut the economic growth target for this year to 6 to 7 percent from 7 to 8 percent.
House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro blamed the standoff on Lacson, who he said on Thursday was blocking passage of the budget bill because of a personal grudge against Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Castro spoke to dispute Lacson’s claim that Arroyo might be held liable for signing the budget bill that contained realignments made after its ratification.
Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., the House appropriations committee chair, has said there is nothing illegal in the itemization, as it has been done in the interest of transparency.
According to Castro, while the senators question the itemized allocations, they also need to explain where they have put the P11 billion slashed from the road right of way funding for President Duterte’s infrastructure projects; P2.5 billion from the National Greening Project; P3 billion removed from scholarships under the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority; and P2.5 billion for foreign-assisted projects.
“The Senate removed all those allocations and we don’t know where they put them,” Castro said. —WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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