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Malacañang watches as budget impasse simmers

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Malacañang Palace

MALACAÑANG on Monday said President Rodrigo R. Duterte was ready to veto questionable provisions in the P3.757-trillion national budget for this year, even as it hoped both chambers of Congress would resolve their differences soon.

The leadership of the House of Representatives and of the Senate continued on Monday to trade allegations of post-ratification changes to delayed 2019 national spending plan.


In a Monday news briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said the president “will exercise his power to veto if he feels that indeed the budget to be given to him does not conform with the Constitution; otherwise, he will sign it into law.”

Sought for comment about the continuing tiff between the two legislative chambers, Mr. Panelo said: “I’m sure they will agree — the House and the Senate — dahil nag-uusap naman sila eh (because they talk to each other).”

“From what I hear, they’re talking to agree. Hindi ko lang alam kung kailan mangyayari ‘yun (I just don’t know when that will happen),” he added.

While he said Mr. Duterte “hasn’t told me anything about what he intends to do”, Mr. Panelo said: “Sigurokung (Maybe, if) I will have my educated guess — the President will persuade para matapos na ‘yang ano nila (to resolve both chambers’ differences). But knowing members of Congress, they always… agree eventually.”

The government has been operating on a reenacted budget since 2019 began that leaves new projects unfunded. That adds to worries about overall economic growth this year, which will see a 45-day public works ban ahead of the May 13 elections and weather disturbances next semester.

The Duterte administration has been pushing increased state spending — especially on infrastructure and social services — to prod gross domestic product (GDP) growth to a sustained faster 7-8% annual pace until it ends its six-year term in mid-2022 from 6.3% in 2010-2016.

The first two years of the administration saw GDP growth average 6.45%.

The House on Monday sent the 2019 general appropriations measure to the Senate for signature of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III before it can be transmitted to the Office of the President.

“We intend to send this to the palace this afternoon and copies for the Senate have already been sent to Senate,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of Camarines Sur’s 1st district said in a briefing, Monday.

But Mr. Sotto on Monday maintained that the Senate will not transmit the 2019 national budget to Malacañang for enactment if the House were to insist on realignments it allegedly made after both chambers of Congress ratified the measure.

“It’s simple. Whatever is approved, that should be the enrolled copy. It cannot be changed. It’s clear. We will be violating the Revised Penal Code, we will be violating the Constitution if we change anything after we have ratified it in both Houses,” he told reporters.

“When we see differences from the version we ratified, we would not transmit it to the President. And I will tell the President that this is not what we passed,” he later added.

Mr. Sotto had said in a radio interview that he received reports from the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) that the House realigned P79 billion in the national budget, a move that was not agreed on by the bicameral conference committee that harmonized conflicting provisions of the House and Senate versions.

Mr. Andaya countered by claiming the Senate had realigned P75 billion in the national budget after the measure was ratified.

Mr. Andaya said the House merely exercised its prerogative to “itemize” lump-sum items, while Mr. Sotto said: “The Senate did not touch anything, contrary to what the House Appropriations chairman is saying…”

“I have the assurance of the chairman of the Committee of Finance (Senator Loren B. Legarda), the assurance of the LBRMO and even Senator (Panfilo M.) Lacson (a vice-chairman of the Finance committee) that we did not touch anything after we ratified it on the floor.”

The Senate chief said further that “[t]he possibility is really looming now that there will really be a reenacted budget if the (House) would not revert to the original (measure) that we passed.”

“By July, we can make changes or we can pass a supplemental budget for the rest of the year.” — Arjay L. Balinbin, Camille A. Aguinaldo and Charmaine A. Tadalan