Andaya hits Sotto’s ‘strong reservations’ in signing of proposed 2019 budget

Robie de Guzman   •   April 5, 2019   •   2120

(L-R) House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Rolando Andaya, Jr. and Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Rolando Andaya, Jr. on Thursday slammed Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s “strong reservations” in the signing of the enrolled copy of the proposed 2019 national budget.

Sotto had expressed “strong reservations” when he signed the bill for the 2019 national budget on March 26, maintaining that the P75-billion worth of projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)
local infrastructure program funded through the “internal realignments” were “unconstitutional.” He also expressed hope that President Rodrigo Duterte will consider his request to veto the questionable provisions in the bill, specifically the alleged pork barrel insertions.

In a statement accompanying the letter he sent to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and acting Budget Chief Janet Abuel, Andaya asked Malacañang and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to assail Sotto’s conditional signing of the bill.

Andaya said Sotto’s “unwarranted” move was ill-advised by his lawyer and that there is no such thing as “conditional signing of an enrolled bill.”

“The Senate cannot clothe his signature to the 2019 General Appropriations Bills with ambivalence or dissent,” he said

“The letter he sent to the President expressing his “strong reservations” as annotation in the 2016 National Budget enrolled bill has no legal basis. It is just a personal request, which the President may or may not take heed,” he said.

Andaya also stressed that signing an enrolled copy of the national budget is a legal act so “the imprimatur of the Senate President on the enrolled bill cannot be diminished by his ‘strong reservations,’ which are completely unwarranted.”

Andaya also insisted that the realignments were not made post-ratification as these had been authorized by the bicameral conference committee report. He also emphasized that the realignments “did not exceed” the approved expenditure ceilings of respective departments and agencies.

“For one, the realignments he cited were adjustments authorized by no less than the Bicameral Conference Committee, which was approved and signed by the conferees from both chamber,” Andaya said.

The lawmaker also noted that “the generic term ‘adjustments’ subsumes realignments and allied modifications.”

Andaya also pointed out that the Omnibus Motion had been included in the previous bicameral reports for institutionalized realignments pursuant to the ratified bicameral report.

“We also maintain that the realignments which the Senate also made, 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,” he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has a different interpretation on the issue, stressing that inserting realignments after the budget has been ratified is a different matter.

“It can’t be interpreted that suddenly you insert and realign items in the budget, no,” Drilon said.

He also supports Sotto’s move to express reservations on the 2019 budget bill due to questionable provisions.

“The President has no choice but to veto, because the Senate President said that portion of the bill was not validly passed,” he said.

Sotto, meanwhile, said the budget approval is now up to President Duterte.

“At the end of the day, the Senate exercised its power to scrutinize and challenge what is spurious in the budget. It also proves that the Senate is still and will remain independent. The Senate will let the President decide on the submitted budget,” Sotto said in a statement on Wednesday.

READ: SGMA confident Duterte will sign 2019 budget soon

House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for her part, expressed confidence that the 2019 budget will be signed soon when Duterte has completed the line-item vetoes.

Malacañang earlier assured that they will thoroughly review the bill prior to Duterte’s signing. – Robie de Guzman (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

New witnesses, evidence to appear in Senate probe on ‘ninja cops’ issue – Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   October 8, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – The next Senate hearing on the issue of illegal drug recycling scheme involving several cops, and the anomalies at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) will be “explosive,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Tuesday.

In a press briefing at the Manila Hotel, Sotto told reporters that new pieces of evidence and new witnesses will appear when the Senate justice and blue ribbon committees resume their joint inquiry on Wednesday.

“I do not know if I’m at liberty to tell you but there is really something explosive again. I think there will be new evidence, one or two new witnesses because I signed nine subpoenas last night,” he said.

Sotto said Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino and former PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief and now Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong will still be invited to the hearing.

Sotto added the investigation on Wednesday will also reveal more information about the controversial anti-drug operation in Mexico, Pampanga in 2013 which involved 13 police officers earlier tagged as ‘ninja cops.’

“Pinagkukuha ang sasakyan ni Johnson Lee that will be part of the investigation tomorrow na lalabas yung mga sasakyan na tinira,” he said.

The 13 cops, led by then Supt. Rodney Baloyo, allegedly made off with kilograms of shabu worth millions that they seized from an anti-drug operation on alleged Chinese drug lord Johnson Lee.

Baloyo’s team was also accused of setting Lee free in exchange for P50 million and presented another Chinese national as a drug suspect.

The police officers were ordered dismissed in 2014 while Albayalde, who was then the head of Pampanga provincial police, was relieved from his post for command responsibility.

The dismissal order, however, was not implemented as the police officers were only demoted in 2017.

Magalong and Aquino both accused Albayalde of intervening in the case of his former subordinates, which the latter denied.

On the alleged anomalies at the BuCor, Sotto said bureau officers Mabel Bansil and Veronica Buño have revealed new information regarding the irregularities in the implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) rule.

“Marami silang sinabi eh, sa executive session, ang mga sinabi nila related to their work,” he said.

The Senate initially started its inquiry into the questionable release of heinous crimes convicts under the expanded GCTA law, which witnesses claimed were given for a price by corrupt BuCor officials.

It later went on to probe the alleged recycling and reselling of illegal drugs by some rogue policemen. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Grace Casin)

Lacson releases copy of Castro’s lobby letter seeking P258 million

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 27, 2019

Senator Panfilo Lacson has released a copy of Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro’s alleged lobby letter seeking financial assistance worth P258 million.

In a statement published on Thursday (September 26), Lacson belied Castro’s statement that the said letter was ‘fictional.’

“In a letter dated Sept. 19, 2019, Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro lobbied with Sen. Lacson for financial assistance to construct a municipal building for Dumalag town, costing P258 million,” the statement reads.

Lacson also posted on Twitter that Castro and his co-conspirators in the House had allegedly illegally inserted P95B in the 2019 national budget which was vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

On Thursday Castro said the letter was not related to pork barrel.

“It was not a lobby letter. It’s a letter-request just like any other letters I sent to other senators,” he said in a statement. “Lobbying is different. My letter-request shows my resolve to help my constituents. It’s not pork barrel.”—AAC

Lawmaker demands apology from Lacson over pork barrel accusations

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 26, 2019

Senator Panfilo Lacson

Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro has demanded an apology from Senator Panfilo Lacson for accusing him and other Congressmen of inserting ‘pork barrel’ funds in the 2020 national budget.

During his privilege speech on Wednesday (September 25), Castro said Lacson’s accusations has tainted the reputation of the institution.

“Because of this irresponsible and reckless act that has damaged not only the reputation of this institution but more importantly the reputation and integrity of each and every member of this house especially the newcomers who have come with their idealism in these halls intact,” he said.

The lawmakers added, Lacson has no right to make such accusations since he has not seen the General Appropriation Bill approved by the House of Representatives.

“That makes him more irresponsible. He has not seen a single line of the General Appropriation Bill, he has not studied yet as he claimed the GAB approved by the House,” Castro said.

However, Lacson maintained his stance on the issue and said Castro, along with other Congressmen allegedly involved in the pork barrel insertion, should apologize.

“As for those House members who abused the hard-earned money of taxpayers for the longest time that they availed of ‘pork,’ they are the ones who should apologize to the Filipino people,” Lacson said in a statement.

“The whining and howling of Congressman Castro and his like-minded colleagues will not distract me from performing my mandate of scrutinizing the budget measure,” he added.

On Monday (September 23), Lacson said several House members reported that House Deputy speakers will be getting additional P1.5 billion allocation in the proposed P4.1 trillion 2020 National Budget.

Lacson added that the House will also be getting another P700 million to allot for their pet bills.—AAC

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