Lawmakers can raise budget issues to SC — Palace

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MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers questioning the approval of the P3.8-billion 2019 national budget can raise their issues to the Supreme Court, a Palace official yesterday said.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said lawmakers are free to question items in this year’s budget before the high court. 

“It’s their right to question anything that they feel should be subject to a petition before the Supreme Court. That’s their right. In fact, that’s their duty if they feel they are right. Let the Supreme Court decide,” Panelo said at a press briefing. 

“I’m sure Mr. Diokno and Mr. Nograles have the competence and the expertise to respond to the allegations of Mr. Andaya,” he added. 

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. has accused Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles of working to restore a P75-billion “insertion” in the P3.8-trillion spending bill.

Malacañang expressed confidence that Cabinet members would be able to answer the issues raised by Andaya on the 2019 budget. 

Officials previously claimed there was nothing irregular about the amount, which they said was an adjustment in the budget for infrastructure. The amount has since been realigned to various projects, they said. 

Panelo assured the public that President Duterte would not allow any irregular item in the budget. 

“The President, as we said, will be scrutinizing every phase, every provision of the budget. He wants to be sure that it is in conformity with the Constitution. And he will veto anything that he feels is not correct or irregular,” he said. 

Andaya, who heads the House of Representatives appropriations committee, has claimed Diokno and Norgales would try to bring back the multibillion- peso “insertion” through the President’s veto message.

He vowed to join Sens. Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon in challenging the veto message before the high court if Nograles and Diokno succeed in their “scheme” to restore the P75-billion allocation through a presidential veto. 

Panelo said lawmakers may try to override a presidential veto if they do not agree with it. 

“You don’t (actually) have to go to the Supreme Court. A president vetoes a measure, then Congress can override the veto by the required number of votes,” he said. 

Congress may override a presidential veto by a vote of two-thirds of the members of each legislative chamber. 

Andaya had earlier warned Duterte about restoring the P75-billion infrastructure projects inserted by Diokno in the 2019 appropriations program, but which Congress removed and realigned.

He said the President might have been given “bum advice” by his budget official to veto the budget.

“This is the reason why I am making so much noise. The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) secretary is the one tasked to craft the budget veto message for the President’s signature. I do not want the President to get bum advice from Diokno and his fellow conspirators,” Andaya, a former DBM chief, said.

Senators and congressmen comprising the bicameral conference committee agreed to remove and “realign” the P75 billion Diokno admitted having inserted in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), before the budget program was ratified last week.

The House official said “Diokno and his cohorts” are under intense pressure to put back the realigned funds as favored contractors had already distributed “commissions” ranging from 10 to 20 percent of project cost.

“Contractors who paid commissions for the P75-billion infra projects inserted by the DBM in the National Expenditure Program are upset that their cash advances will be put to naught,” he said, adding an official even had to “return” the P200 million he advanced from Mindanao contractors.

“Mukhang mas mahal pa ng opisyal ang buhay niya keysa komisyon (Apparently, the official loves his life more than the commission),” he said.

“These projects were already bidded out and ready for awarding to favored contractors once the President signs the budget, and this was confirmed by DPWH Undersecretary Ma. Catalina Cabral during our House hearing,” he recalled.

“The problem here is, winning bidders now have dim chances of bagging the projects included in the insertions. The projects they paid through cash advance burst like a bubble,” Andaya said in Filipino.

But the “fingerprints” of Diokno were all over the transaction, he said.

“This is the problem that gives Diokno and his co-conspirators sleepless nights. They had to appease favored contractors who advanced billions of pesos in commissions even before winning the bidding of the DPWH projects. Their only choice: restore the P75-billion insertion through a veto message,” Andaya said.

“This is a carefully planned operation, from start to finish,” he pointed out as he vowed to file plunder and graft charges against Diokno and other officials before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Diokno, meanwhile, again denied Andaya’s allegation, calling it “baseless, premature, irresponsible.”

He said the DBM would review the ratified version of the measure upon its transmittal to Malacañang.

He said the DBM would prepare a Statement of Difference comparing line-by-line the President’s budget and the enrolled bill that came out of Congress.

“We do not claim monopoly of fiscal wisdom,” he said.

The review, Diokno said, would be completed within four to seven days from transmission of the enrolled bill. Once finished, the DBM will submit its recommendations to the President.

“We will provide the President the option to veto or accept the amendment. If the congressional amendment is an improvement over the President’s proposal, we will propose adoption; otherwise, we will propose line-item veto,” the DBM chief said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he is not giving up the fight against “pork barrel” as he expressed hope Duterte’s “strong political will” would help him in his crusade.

Lacson was one of the senators who did not sign the bicameral report approving the budget.

“It is high time we eliminate the obvious disconnect between the needs and priorities of the countryside local government units and the expenditure program at the national level, due to the absence of consultations,” Lacson said. – With Delon Porcalla, Cecille Suerte Felipe