MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte said this week that he would not sign into a law an “illegal” budget, the same one that Senator PanfiloLacson said Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had “falsified.”
On Wednesday, March 13, he former president and now Speaker of the House of Representatives was accused by the senior senator of violating the Constitution by altering the 2019 budget.
Lacson noted that the final version of this year’s national budget that Speaker Arroyo had submitted for concurrence by Senate President Tito Sotto was different from the one that the bicameral Congress had ratified last Feb. 8.
In “doctoring” the budget, the Speaker could be charged with “falsification because she has already certified on something that did not take place,” said Lacson.
For its part, Malacanang said that the President would not sign any law that was in violation of the Constitution.
Congressional leaders met with Mr. Duterte on Tuesday evening to try and iron out their differences.
If a current year’s budget is not passed by the two houses of Congress and signed into law by the chief executive, the previous year’s budget will be adopted as the basis for all government expenditures.
Due to the voluminous nature of the budget, it is not unusual for lawmakers involved in its preparation to insert or realign certain portions to favor their pet projects.
This year, however, the Speaker had apparently allowed massive changes in the document after the final version had been worked out, leading to accusations that she had blatantly overstepped her authority.
The meeting between the president, on one hand, and the Senate and House leaders, on the other, did not result into a settlement.
Sotto said the president “would not sign it if I do not sign it.”
Both the House Speaker and the Senate President are allies of Mr. Duterte, but Arroyo’s loyalty has been questioned on several occasions by the president’s close advisers.
Mr. Duterte said he wanted the 2019 budget signed into law soonest as his massive “build, build, build” program was dependent on allocations that were not in the 2018 budget.
As of press time, the two houses of Congress were working on the likely solution of restoring the original ratified version of the bill before allies of the Speaker had realigned segments that were later discovered by the Senate.
Arroyo ends her final term as member of the House of Representatives this year. She will therefore step down as Speaker when the next Congress convenes.
This year’s budget hearings had turned acrimonious especially between House members and then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
Allies of Arroyo had sought the resignation of Diokno, but this became unnecessary after he was suddenly picked by the president to head the BangkoSentral ng Pilipinas.