By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE BICAMERAL DEADLOCK over this year’s P3.757-trillion national budget — which threatened to drag overall economic growth — ended on Tuesday as Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III announced that he has signed, with “reservations,” and transmitted the spending plan to Malacañang.
“We are informing that I already signed the budget… it is now going to be an enrolled bill; we sent it to the President but I placed my reservations on the signature. I have incorporated a note that says my signature is in reference to my attached annotation,” he told reporters in a press briefing at his Senate office.
His reservations — in a note attached to the measure — focused on post-ratification changes made by the House of Representatives.
Sought for comment, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia replied in a mobile phone message: “It looks like the long delay did not result in a major change in the budget — which time could have been used by the President to consider needed revisions, e.g., for line budget item vetoes.”
“Meanwhile, Q1 growth rate already likely to be trimmed.”
The inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee the other week slashed its 2019 gross domestic product growth forecast to 6-7% from 7-8% originally as the government operates on a reenacted budget, while the National Economic and Development Authority — which Mr. Pernia heads as director-general — has estimated separately that operating on a reenacted budget until April would cut full-year growth to 6.1-6.3%.
The government had been banking on front-loading infrastructure work this quarter, ahead of the 45-day ban on public works ahead of the May 13 midterm elections and weather disturbances next semester. The reenacted national budget left new projects unfunded.
Mr. Sotto said the Senate has transmitted to Malacañang the version of the national budget with the changes made by the House of Representatives, leaving President Rodrigo R. Duterte to decide on the provisions questioned by senators.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement that Mr. Duterte would scrutinize the national budget before signing it.
“We assure our people that the President will go over the enrolled bill, scrutinize it and sign it should the same be in accordance with our Constitution and the laws,” Mr. Panelo said. “As we approach the midpoint of the Duterte administration, we remain determined to build on the significant gains that we have started in the first two-and-a-half years and continue to stay on the right track to deliver real and lasting change to our people.”
Asked by reporters if Mr. Duterte would the sign the national budget with the House’s questioned changes, Mr. Panelo said, “It would depend on him. If he feels it’s not in violation with the Constitution, he can sign it immediately.”
“Knowing the President, he will act on it immediately because we need a new budget… Maybe in a few days,” he added.
In his note attached to the national budget transmitted to Malacañang, Mr. Sotto said his signature on the measure was limited to the items approved by the Senate and House in the bicameral conference committee and subsequently ratified.
“In particular, it is my view that it is unconstitutional that P75 billion worth of programs/projects under the Local Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways was funded through internal realignments after the Bicameral Conference Committee Report was ratified,” the Senate leader stated in his note.
He said in his note that Mr. Duterte “may wish to consider disapproving” the questionable provisions by vetoing them.
It was the idea of the Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon for Mr. Sotto to sign the national budget and to attach his reservations, according to Senator Panfilo M. Lacson in the same briefing.
“What we have done is propose this language to the Senate President, Senator (Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F.) Zubiri, Senator Lacson, Senator (Loren B.) Legarda and (Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G.) Recto in order that we maintain our position that these insertions are unconstitutional, but at the same time, not prejudice national interests by holding on to the unsigned General Appropriations Bill,” Mr. Drilon told reporters in the press briefing.
“We maintain the view that this is unconstitutional but we must find a solution to the impasse in the budget and serve the interest of the nation.”
Messrs. Lacson and Sotto added that they have notified the House and the Executive Department by relaying the information to San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora and to Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea prior to the transmittal of the national budget to Malacañang.
By Camille A. Aguinaldo