MANILA -- Senior House leaders on Thursday called on Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson to stop acting as lawyers and refrain from concocting fabricated charges to put the House of Representatives in a bad light.
In a statement, House Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Bravo said both Sotto and Lacson are now confused with their roles.
“They have stopped acting as legislators and now want to assume the role of lawyers for the Senate. I am sorry to say this, but they are poor actors and can hardly pass as legal aides,” he said.
While admitting that he is not a lawyer himself, the COOP-NATCCO party-list lawmaker said he finds it amusing that an actor-comedian and a former police general have the temerity to accuse House leaders who were in charge of budget legislation of resorting to criminal acts in passing the 2019 General Appropriations Act.
"May I remind Sotto and Lacson that the House leaders who steered the approval of the 2019 GAA are mostly lawyers and accountants. These are all experts in all phases of the budget process -- from budget preparation, authorization, execution, up to budget accountability," Bravo said.
He said Sotto and Lacson should also discuss with their colleagues in the Senate on what criminal charges they plan to file against Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other House members for itemizing the lump sum allocations in the national budget.
“First, they charge the Speaker with violation of the Constitution. Next, they come up with the charge of falsification of legislative documents. If these two senators will not stop acting as prosecutors, then I will advise the Speaker to stay home after dark lest they decide to charge her next with vagrancy," Bravo said in jest.
Bravo said instead of grandstanding before the media, it would be better for Sotto and Lacson to heed the advice of the chief of the Senate's Legislative Budget Research and Management Office (LBMRO), Director General Yolanda Dublon.
"Ms. Dublon maintains that there is nothing unconstitutional, illegal or irregular in itemizing the lump sum allocations in the national budget even after both chambers ratified the bicameral conference report. She made this position clear in front of President Rodrigo Duterte during his meeting with Senate and House leaders last Tuesday night,” he said.
“That is the reason why the President does not buy Sotto's earlier position that the House leaders committed an unconstitutional act in itemizing the lump sum allocation," Bravo said.
Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay, meanwhile, told Lacson to stop acting “like a Supreme Court."
“Senator Ping, stop playing the Supreme Court by saying the budget is unconstitutional, because it is only the Supreme Court that can make such pronouncement,” the Surigao del Sur lawmaker said.
“If you believe it is unconstitutional, then file a case and question it. It is only when the Supreme Court declares it to be unconstitutional that it is unconstitutional,” Pichay said.
He also urged Lacson to set aside his “deep-rooted” anger towards Arroyo so that the budget would be passed for the sake of the country.
Pichay noted that the senator's anger toward the former president might have blinded him from the fact that the House of Representatives is a collegial body just like the Senate.
“Any act of the Speaker, especially in the signing of bills and other forms of legislation, is an act of the House of Representatives as a whole. If she is liable, then majority of the members are equally liable because we authorized her to do it,” he said.
“Senator Ping, for the sake of the country, and for the sake of President Duterte, who had called upon Congress to act on it swiftly otherwise the economy and the welfare of the Filipino people will suffer, set aside mo muna ang rage mo kay Speaker,” Pichay said
On the other hand, House Majority Floor Leader Fredenil Castro said the maneuverings of Sotto and Lacson appear like they wanted President Duterte to fail.
“It seems that Senator Ping Lacson is holding President Duterre and the entire Filipino people hostage to his continuing animosity towards our Speaker. He has obviously convinced the Senate leadership to do his bidding,” Castro said.
The Capiz lawmaker pointed out that while the House has itemized the lump sum appropriations in their realignments, the Senate has failed to explain where they put their own realignments.
These include the PHP2.5 billion they took from the National Greening Project; the PHP3 billion they removed from Technical Education and Skills Development Authority scholarships; the PHP11 billion for right of way of projects for the President's "Build, Build, Build" program; and the PHP2.5 billion funding for foreign assisted projects, among others.
“The Senate removed all those allocations and we don't know where they put them. The senators need to explain where they put these allocations,” Castro said.
The House Majority Leader added that the Senate has so far failed to act on other priority legislation that forms part of the President’s agenda.
These include continuing the process of Charter change towards federalism, passing the second tranche of tax reform or TRAIN 2, the traffic emergency bill and creating a new Department of Disaster Management, among others.
“It seems with their maneuverings, they want the President to fail,” Castro said.
He reminded senators that as lawmakers, their foremost responsibility is to serve the people.
“We were elected by our people to pass laws for their benefit, not to indulge in personal vendettas, and least of all to place those vendettas ahead of the job we were elected to do. Let’s heed the President’s call for all of us to do our job and do right by our people,” Castro said. (PNA)