The chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday said Senate President Vicente Sotto III was “ill-advised by his lawyers” when the latter expressed his “strong reservations” against the 2019 budget bill in a letter Sotto had sent to President Rodrigo Duterte.
“It has no legal basis. It is just a personal request, which the President may or may not take heed,” Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., the panel’s chairman, said in a statement.
Andaya also maintained that the realignments did by the House—in the same manner that the Senate did—”are fully constitutional as part of the budgetary process, and there is no constitutional provision which has been violated, as none was cited by the Senate President.”
Last March 26, Sotto signed the proposed P3.8-trillion national budget for this year. But he asked the President to veto the P75 billion worth of programs under the Local Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways as he believed these were “unconstitutionally” realigned by the House after it ratified the budget measure last Feb. 8.
Andaya said he sent separate letters to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Acting Secretary Janet Abuel of the Department of Budget and Management dated March 28, 2019 to counter Sotto’s arguments.
“In my letters, I emphasized that there is no such thing as ‘conditional signing of an enrolled bill.’ The Senate cannot clothe his signature to the 2019 General Appropriations Bill with ambivalence or dissent,” Andaya said.
“Signing an enrolled copy of the national budget is a legal act. The imprimatur of the Senate President on the enrolled bill cannot be diminished by his ‘strong reservations’, which are completely unwarranted,” he added.
Andaya also said he told the two Palace officials that the “Senate President cannot interfere with the exercise by President Duterte of his veto power by suggesting what items should be vetoed in an enrolled bill, which bears his signature.”
“The arguments raised by the Senate President in his letter are completely baseless. For one, the realignments he cited were adjustments authorized by no less than the Bicameral Conference Committee Report, which was approved and signed by the conferees from both chambers,” Andaya said.
He said the Committee Report included a traditional Omnibus Motion, which unequivocally reads: “Technical Staff of the House Committee on Appropriations and Senate Committee on Finance are authorized to effect corrections of typographical, grammatical and printing errors, as well as the necessary adjustments as a consequence of the amendments.”
Andaya added that the Omnibus Motion also explicitly stated: “In case of conflict between the Conference Committee Report and the Printed Copy of the Bill, the latter shall prevail.”
“Consequently, the printed House version is completely authorized and compliant with the ratified Bicameral Report,” he said.
He said it should be underscored that the generic term “adjustments” subsumes realignments and allied modifications. Budget adjustment refers to any addition or reduction made in the budget while budget realignment is the process of adjusting the original budget.
“I also pointed out that the Omnibus Motion has been incorporated in previous Bicameral Reports for decades and has institutionalized realignments pursuant to the ratified Bicameral Report.
“Thus, our firm position that the adjustments made by the House are not post-ratification realignments as they were expressly authorized by the ratified Bicameral Report,” Andaya said.