House official says Duterte being set up to fail by senators in budget impasse

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Vicente C. Sotto III

HOUSE Majority Leader Fredenil H. Castro of the 2nd district of Capiz, said the budget actions of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson represent “maneuvering” to cause President Rodrigo R. Duterte to fail.

“It seems that Senator Ping Lacson is holding President Duterte and the entire Filipino people hostage due to his continuing animosity towards our Speaker (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo). He has obviously convinced the Senate leadership to do his bidding,” Mr. Castro said in a statement Thursday.

The delayed 2019 Budget remains untransmitted to Malacañang amid a dispute over an “itemization” exercise undertaken by the House after the P3.757 trillion spending plan was approved by the bicameral conference committee.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of the 1st district of Camarines Sur has said that the itemization of lump sums, most of it involving health funding, was done with the agreement of the Senate Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Loren B. Legarda.

He added in a statement Thursday, that lump sum funds are “prone to corruption” and must be itemized.

The standoff has led to calls that the budget be recalled or that objectionable portions of the budget be vetoed by the President.

Mr. Sotto said in a television interview Thursday: “The suggestion was that again, recall the submitted GAB (General Appropriations Bill) to us and from there we could probably amend or let the President veto that portion, then we can convene even for one day a special session and pass a joint resolution: approving a supplemental budget for the (disputed) part of the budget,” which he estimated as accounting for about 3% of the total spending plan. He noted this was the subject of discussions between Mr. Lacson and San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora.

Asked to comment, former Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad said he agrees that recalling the budget is the more “practical” approach.

“The solution which was to recall it and get it through the same process again would have been the more practical thing to do, but if you do that, then this time around the process has to be more open,” Mr. Abad told reporters on the sidelines of a book launch on Thursday.

He also said that post-bicameral itemization has long been practiced in Congress, which does not necessarily mean it is “legal.”

“Now that somebody within Congress, like the Senators, are raising that question then they’ll have to deal with that constitutional and legal consequences of amending what has already been ratified.”

The House transmitted the proposed national budget for the signature of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III on March 11.

Mr. Andaya said in a phone message he is set to have an “informal” meeting with the Senate, noting at this point, “at least, there is a consensus to meet.”

In a follow up statement, Mr. Andaya told the senators “Our lines remain open for a dialogue with the Senate. Set the date and place, we will be there.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan