MANILA — Following a meeting by President Rodrigo Duterte with congressional leaders, lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Wednesday insisted that the itemization they made on the lump sum appropriations in the ratified bicameral conference committee report on the 2019 budget is legal and constitutional.
President Duterte met with House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Appropriations panel chair Rolando Andaya Jr., Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, among others, Tuesday night to discuss the passage of this year’s proposed PHP3.757-trillion budget.
In a press conference, House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro said during their meeting with Duterte, the President suggested to the House and the Senate to finalize the budget as soon as possible because the country needs it.
“And then the President added it’s the ballgame of Congress to finish it in a manner which is more or most convenient, or to which they are both comfortable,” Castro said.
The Capiz lawmaker said while President Duterte never said anything about the details of the lump sums that were itemized, there was a proposal from Senator Panfilo Lacson to finish the budget by retaining the lump sum appropriations in the bicameral report and just allow the President to itemize the projects, which may be covered by the lump sum appropriations.
“But there was reservation on the part of the House, especially on the part of the chairman of the committee on appropriations, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., because we would be inviting an unconstitutional act,” Castro said.
He said President Duterte also turned down the proposal.
“Considering the suggestion of Senator Lacson to let him itemized the lump sum appropriation, the President said: ‘I cannot, that’s the job of Congress. You resolve the impasse, you finish the budget’,” Castro said.
Asked to comment on Lacson’s latest statements that his suggestion “did not sit well with the congressmen” because their realignments are all “about their pork” without any regard to the flagship projects of the government, the House Majority Leader said lump sum appropriations are “objectionable” and needed to be itemized.
“On his statement that these are pork, pork, pork, can he not see the itemized items there? These are projects, these are not for the benefit, individual benefits of the congressmen,” he said.
He pointed out that before the ratification of the bicam report, the realignments have been discussed, but the amount simply was in lump sum, which was consequently itemized by the House.
“Congressman Andaya said that for the sake of transparency it has to be itemized so that people will know where the funds of the government shall be used and will go. And perhaps everybody will agree that lump sum appropriation is objectionable because you will not know where the money will go and where it shall be used,” Castro said.
“It‘s still itemized because it is not unconstitutional and it is not illegal,” he said.
Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rodante Marcoleta, meanwhile, said the Senate has no right to meddle with the Constitutional mandate of the House.
“Realignments made by the House are purely regular and constitutional because this is still part of the authorization process as mandated to us by the Constitution,” the Sagip party-list lawmaker said in the same press briefing.
He cited Article 6 Section 24 of the Constitution which states that: “All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.”
Marcoleta said it is clear in the provision that the Senate “cannot impose” their will on the mandated function of the House.
“This is the whole problem there. If we realign some budgets, as long as the aggregate numbers are not altered and modified, it is part of our mandate,” he said.
“So, it is the strategy of the House how to re-prioritize, that’s our job. Why would you say that it is unconstitutional? Why would it be irregular? Find a provision in the Constitution that we violated. Wala naman silang sinasabi (They have not cited any),” Marcoleta said.
On the constitutional provision cited by Lacson as his basis for saying that the House realignments were made after the bicam report has been ratified, Castro and Marcoleta said the provision only applies to ordinary bills passed by both Chambers of Congress.
The House leaders were referring to Article 6, Section 26, paragraph 2, which states that “upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal.”
Castro said Lacson is comparing the passage of an ordinary bill with the General Appropriations Act.
In an ordinary bill, the House leader pointed out that after the period of amendments, no further amendments shall be entertained after the third reading.
However, he said what is important in the passing of the General Appropriations Bill is the period of legislation and period of implementation.
He said the period of legislation includes the bicameral conference committee, the conference report, up to the time before the President actually signs the national budget.
“And when you speak of period of legislation, amendments are still permitted provided that you do not alter what has been agreed upon and the amount in lump sum appropriation contained in the bicameral conference report,” he said.
“But after the President signs the budget, that is now the period of implementation or execution. During which time, you may no longer tinker with what has already been approved because that will be post-enactment amendments,” Castro said.
Marcoleta agreed with the House Majority Leader, saying the budget is not a simple bill.
“This happens to be the biggest check to be issued by the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.
“So we have to be very careful in crafting it. We have to itemize where it shall be spent so that it would not go wherever else,” Marcoleta said.
But despite their stand, Castro said the House is very much willing to sit down with the Senate to break the impasse as President Duterte has suggested.
“Kung mayroon naman tayong kahihiyan, medyo siguro tigilan na natin iyong kalokohan at hindi mabuti. Pag-usapan ang nakakalito para mapirmahan ng Pangulo. Dahil kung tayo ay mahihiya sa Pangulo, mahihiya na tayo sa bayan (If we have shame, let’s stop the nonsense and impolitic. Let’s discuss the problem so that the President can sign the budget. If we are ashamed to the President, we will be ashamed to the public),” he said.
Castro said it would now be up to Andaya and Senator Loren Legarda to come out with the solution that is “most comfortable” to both the House and the Senate.
“They have to meet at the soonest possible time,” Castro said. Jose Cielito Reganit/PNA-northboundasia.com