Senate transmits 2019 budget bill to Malacañang to end deadlock

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Senate on Tuesday, March 26, transmitted the 2019 P3.757-trillion budget bill  to Malacañang despite "strong reservations" on the House of Representative’s post-bicameral conference realignments. 

Senate leaders agreed on this compromise, originally proposed by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, in a meeting on Tuesday. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a news briefing that he signed the budget bill “with strong reservations.” He also sent signed attachments on the House’s realignments to insist on the Senate's stand. 

"I affix my signature with strong reservations. My attestation is limited only  to those items approved by  the Bicameral Conference Committee and ratified by both Houses of Congress," Sotto said in his letter to President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a news briefing where senators announced the decision, Sotto said they decided to send the enrolled bill to Duterte since the amount involved was only 2% to 3% of the 2019 budget.

“We are sending the enrolled bill now to the President as is…. Ang kinukwestiyon ay 2% to 3% lang naman ng budget (What's being questioned is just 2 to 3% of the budget), might as well approve it,” Sotto said in a press conference.

With this move, the Senate also urged the President to veto post-bicam realignments, which senators said are unconstitutional. (READ: Can the budget be adjusted post-bicam? What Supreme Court says)

"The President may wish to consider disapproving these unconstitutional  realignments, pursuant to his constitutional power to veto particular items in the General Appropriations Bill,"  Sotto said in his letter to Duterte.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who first criticized their House counterparts over the adjustments in the budget after ratification,  said the Chief Executive has the "final say" on the budget.

“Nasa kanya 'yung (He has the) final say after all…. It’s their call but it's not passing the buck to the Palace,” said Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Drilon said Duterte could use the Senate’s position as basis for vetoing certain provisions in the budget bill.

Drilon said the bipartisan solution is “proof” that opposing political affiliations in the chamber could still work together.

“It is in this context that I first brought the idea to Senator Lacson a week ago in order to end the deadlock… Because if deadlock remains, 20% of GDP coming from public sector could not be realized because it depends on the budget,” Drilon said.

Malacañang said Duterte would sign the 2019 budget bill immediately if there were no legal questions. 

Senators earlier refused to sign the proposed P3.757 trillion budget for 2019. The senators had remained intransigent, claiming the House itemized lump sum funds under the health facilities budget – a move that they said was unconstitutional after the budget had already been ratified by both chambers.

The national government had been operating on a reenacted 2018 budget due to the impasse. – Rappler.com 

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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