Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has expressed gratitude to President Rodrigo Duterte for respecting the independence of the House of Representatives, especially during the proposed 2019 budget process.
In her Adjournment Speech Friday, Arroyo said the proposed 2019 budget is “probably the most dissected budget in the past few decades” and yet the President respected the constitutional mandate of the House and the Senate to ensure transparency and accountability in the budget process.
“We also appreciate President Duterte for respecting the constitutional mandate of the House and the Senate in the budget process. His cognizance of the need for transparency and accountability during his watch served as a beacon of guidance and inspiration for us all. As a former Chief Executive myself, I am well aware of how much can be achieved by a close, constructive partnership between an elected President and the elected representatives of the people,” Arroyo said.
Congressmen are also confident the allocations in the newly ratified 2019 national budget worth P3.757 trillion will pass legal scrutiny, in the event the money measure is challenged at the Supreme Court.
At a press conference Friday night, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House committee on appropriations, allayed concerns that appropriations for each congressmen run contrary to the Supreme Court order prohibiting lump sum funds.
“What the Supreme Court said is there should be no post-enactment involvement ng Congress. Everything that you want to have in the budget, where it should go, how much, should be indicated in the budget,” Andaya said.
He also clarified that a baseline figure for appropriations of each House member was established, but it was adjusted according to the needs of the district.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay on Saturday said the amounts given as entitlements to each congressman are based on the needs of their districts and not on “hating-kapatid” (sibling division) sharing.
Pichay said the pork barrel funds, which Senator Panfilo Lacson has always branded as “bad,” are the projects they as congressmen put in the budget to help their constituents improve their living conditions.
“There is nothing wrong with providing services to the people, to our constituents,” Pichay said in a statement. “If we do not put any project in our districts, we don’t deserve to be the representatives of our district. We do not deserve to stay a day longer in office.”
Pichay said Lacson does not put projects in his home province of Cavite to serve his people. “We respect that. But he should not fault us for wanting to give better services for our people,” he added.
Congress is on a two-month break for the election period. Session resumes on May 20, or a week after the polls.
Arroyo also congratulated the Senate for passing the budget as she called it a “joint achievement” of both houses of Congress.
“Both the House and the Senate should be congratulated for passing the budget in a process characterized by hard work and collective wisdom.
The two bodies worked independently, but in harmony, in scrutinizing the budget, so in the end, it is a joint achievement,” she said.
The Speaker also thanked her colleagues for their tireless effort to pass meaningful legislations during her speakership especially the priority bills of President Duterte.
“I hope that our beloved Juan and Juana de la Cruz will be gratified to hear that since last December, every one of the President’s priority bills as enunciated in his 2018 State of the Nation Address have been duly acted upon by this body,” she said.
“Let the critics carp, but I am hopeful that our people shall know that this 17th Congress has been hard at work for the people who dutifully and thoughtfully marked ballots in May 2016 to mandate our presence here,” Arroyo stated.
These bills include the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region; the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act; Rice in the Agricultural Tariffication Act; Enhanced Universal Healthcare Act; Amnesty Program—General Tax and Estate Tax Amnesty; Revision of the Constitution; National Land Use Act;
Creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience; End of Endo/Contractualization Act; TRAIN 2—Trabaho Bill; the Mining Law; an Increase on the Excise Tax on Tobacco Products, Real Property Valuation and Assessment; Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act; Reform in Capital Income and Financial Taxes; and Increasing and Restructuring the Excise Tax Rates on Alcohol.
During the recess, Arroyo said she will continue with the House Oversight hearings to make sure the laws made by Congress are properly implemented.
“Our oversight committee hearings shall continue during the three-month campaign recess chaired by the several congressmen who are either not running for any post in May or are running unopposed. When we return from the campaign recess, we will go back to legislation,” she said.
“We expect several of the bills we have passed on third reading to be acted on by the Senate in the last month of the 17th congress. In that case there will be bicameral conferences and reports to be ratified,” the Speaker said.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments Chairman, echoed Andaya’s view, adding that the Constitution provides that no money shall be spent out of the Treasury unless budgeted by the Congress.
“We lawmakers ay mandated by the Constitution to pass laws, including appropriation bills. All bills and appropriation shall originate from the House of Representatives,” Veloso said.
He said House members submit the planned expenditures of their respective districts to the Department of Budget and Management, which in turn consolidates the submissions into a proposal.
“Under Section 25 (of Article 6), we cannot increase, we can only decrease the proposed expenditure. We can realign in the process… We only pass the budget. If there are irregularities in the money we allocate, that is beyond Congress,” said Veloso.
Veloso also appealed not to call congressmen as members of the ‘House of Representa-thieves.”
Andaya, meanwhile, said that the Arroyo-led House see to it that congressional entitlements are distributed equitably.
“The general rule is equity, not “equal”... equitable depending on the need of the place,” he said. “I don’t think there is a district which is not in need of any government service. I cannot think of a district that does not need any assistance from the national government.”
Andaya also stressed that politicking was not given room as all districts received their fair share of the budget.
“No district should be left behind. No zero congressional entitlements,” he added.
The House leadership will always assert its power to pass a transparent money measure, Andaya said.