Press Release
March 26, 2019

Transcript of press conference of SP Sotto III, Majority Leader Zubiri, Minority Leader Drilon and Sen. Lacson

SP Sotto: The Senate contingent met with House contingent yesterday. And then last night, even after so many hours, Sen. Lacson, Legarda, Drilon, Zubiri, Recto waited for me as I arrived from Cebu and told me of a possible scenario on how to resolve the impasse once and for all. We were thinking or we had the same thinking that let us no longer belabour the issue and address it directly. And therefore we asked the House of Representatives through Sen. Lacson to tell Cong. Ronnie Zamora to inform the Speaker that they should send the copy to us as they have presented before and I would be ready to sign the budget and as of now we are informing you that I already signed the budget, the enrolled copy, it is now going to be an enrolled bill presented to the President but I placed my reservations on the signature. I have incorporated a note that says 'my signature is in reference to my attached annotation.' And my attached annotation goes like this: 'President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Philippines... Mr. President, I affixed my signature with strong reservations. My attestation is limited only to those approved by the Bicameral Conference Committee and ratified by both Houses of Congress. In particular, it is my view that it is unconstitutional that P75 billion worth of programs/ projects under the Local Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways was funded through internal realignments, after the Bicameral Conference Committee Report was ratified by realigning cute from organizational outcome 1, asset preservation program, network development program and bridge program and organizational outcome 2, flood management program and convergence and support program. Attached as Annex 1 is the list of P95 billion worth of programs/projects which include the P75 billion programs/ projects include the P75 billion programs/projects funded from said realignments. The President may wish to consider disapproving these unconstitutional realignments, pursuant to his constitutional power to veto particular items in the General Appropriations Act, signed by yours truly.' This is the concurrence, as a matter of fact, the proposal emanated from the Minority Leader and concurred in by the Majority Leader and Sen. Lacson, Sen. Legarda and Sen. Recto. We are sending the enrolled bill now to the President as is.

Q: When did you sign?

SP Sotto: Just about 30 minutes ago.

Q: You think yung attachments would be enough to protect you from the suits that you were fearing would be filed against you?

SP Sotto: Yes. I think so especially with the concurrence of the former secretary of justice.

Q: Parang ibinnigay nyo na lang sa Malacanang yung bola, pinirmahan nyo na lang kahit na may questionable sa budget?

SP Sotto: Hindi naman. Hindi ganun. We're just saying, I'm just saying that to no longer belabour the so-called 98% of the budget, eh ang kini-question lang naman namin would be what, 2 -3% of the budget so might as well approve it and have it enacted as the 2019 budget and for them to look at the projects and programs and these realignments we have identified. It's up to the President. It's up the Executive Department. Perhaps Sen. Lacson may be able to ano...

Sen. Lacson: Hindi pinapasa yung bola dahil persuasive yung sulat ni Senate President. In the final analysis, Presidente pa rin yung magde decide kung ive-veto o hindi o kaya magkakaroon ng conditional implementation ang DBM, hindi ire-release yung pondo. Nasa kanila yung final say, after all, itong ginagawa natin, yung authorization phase sa budgeting process hindi pa naman tapos eh. Until such time that the President has finally signed, approved with line-item veto or without libe-item veto, doon pa lang makukumpleto yung authorization phase sa budget process.

Q: Ibig sabihin ba during your meeting with the House contingent, pinanindigan pa rin nila yung maling ginawa nila sa budget?

PML: Ah hindi. Kalimutan na natin yun basta't ito yung latest development. Ito yung naging action ng bipartisan, by the way. After all, itong proposal na ito talaga originally came from the Minority Leader. And syempre, si Senate President now feels safe kasi I supposed mag vo volunteer si Sen. Frank mag-abogado sa kanya pag nademanda sya.

SP Sotto: Perhaps we can hear from the Minority Leader regarding this issue.

Sen. Drilon: Thank you. The compromise solution that we have proposed is proof that while we belong to different political persuasions in the Senate, pagdating po ng kapakanan ng bayan, sama-sama kaming nagkakaisa for the interest of the country and it is in this context that I first broached this idea to Sen. Lacson over a week ago in order to break the deadlock because if the deadlock remains, you have about 20% of the Gross Domestic Product coming from the public sector, not or could not be realized because it depends on the budget. And therefore what we have done is proposed this language to the Senate President, to Sen. Zubiri, Sen. Lacson, Sen. Legarda and Sen. Recto, in order that we maintain our position that these insertions are unconstitutional. But at the same time, not prejudice national interest by holding on to the unsigned General Appropriations Act. So the Senate President signed it with reservation and said that his signature should not be interpreted as concurring with the unconstitutional insertions made and attached these insertions as part of his reservation. These insertions are these thick. Ganito kakapal yung binago nila after the bicam report has been ratified. They itemized it and rearranged the furniture and this is what it is and so what the President did was to say ang pirma po nya sa General Appropriations Bill hindi ibig sabihin na sumasang-ayon ang Senado dito sa ginawang pagbabago ng Kamara de Representante after the ratification of the bicam report because we maintain the view that this is unconstitutional but we must find a solution to the impasse in the budget and serve the interest of the nation. It is that context that I have cooperated with the majority because the interest of the country is already involved and I'm thankful that the Senate President has seen that this is not this is not because of any partisan politics but because of the interest of the country that he agreed to our suggestion.

FMD: And it is in this context that I first broached this idea to Sen. Lacson over a week ago in order to break the deadlock because if the deadlock remains, you have about 20 percent of the gross domestic product coming from the public sector that would not be realized because it depends on the budget. And therefore what we had done is proposed this language to the Senate President, to Sen. Zubiri, Sen. Lacson, Sen. Legarda and Sen. Recto in order that we maintain our position that these insertions are unconstitutional but at the same time not prejudice national interest by holding on to the unsigned general appropriations bill.

So, the Senate President signed it with reservation and said that his signature should not be interpreted as concurring with the unconstitutional insertions made and attach these insertions as part of his reservation. These insertions are this thick, ganito kakapal, 'yun pong binago nila after the bicam report has been ratified, they itemized it and rearranged the furniture... so, what the Senate President did was to say ang pirma n'ya sa General Appropriations Bill, hindi ibig sabihin na sumasangayon ang Senado dito sa ginawang pangbabago ng (inaudible) after the ratification of the bicam report because we maintain the view that this is unconstitutional but we must find a solution to the impasse in the budget and serve the interest of the nation. It is in this context that we have cooperated with the majority... because the interest of the country is already involved and I am thankful that the Senate President has seen that is not because of partisipan politics... because it is for the interest of the country, he had agreed to our suggestion.

SP Sotto: The bottom line is that I signed the national budget as an enrolled bill to be presented to the President but attesting to only the contents of what we had ratified and what we had agreed upon in the bicam.

JMZ: The Senate President signed the budget because he sees the urgency of passing the budget at this point in time. Katulad ng sinabi ang mga kasamahan ko, halos 98 percent ng budget walang problema. Itong dalawang por siento lamang... at pangit naman ihostage natin ang budget ng bansa dahil sa dalawang por siento ito. And what the Senate President has done, together with the assistance of the Minority Leader and many of our colleagues, we believe that it is up to the President, hopefully, to be able to look at this and veto, if necessary, if he feels it is unconstitutional as we feel it is, but at the same time, masusweldo na po ang mga job orders ng gobyerno... halos 30 percent of government jobs are job orders, hindi po nasusuldohan, ang mga projects maumpisahan na, wala pong construction na-nangyayari sa buong Pilipinas, so, you have to remember that maraming istambay ngayon dahil hindi nga sila nagagawa ng trabajo...because government is the biggest employer of the country when it comes to build, build, build projects and of course with government employers. So, the Senate President saw the importance, the expediency of finishing the deadlock, the impasse between the House and the Senate. So, that is the primordial reason why we took this up and finished it as soon as possible with the (unclear) presented by the Senate President.

PML: We did not do this without the information and the concurrent of the House. It is not as if we are turning our backs on them. This morning, after deciding on this last night, I relayed the information to Congressman Zamorra, the designated go-between, sabi ko sa kanya, nag-decide kame kagabi, ipadala n'yo ulit 'yung enrolled bill at pipirma na ang Senate President, mag e-express lang s'ya 'yung reservations. So, malinao sa kanila 'yung gagawin namin. Hindi na may paguusap na nangyari, wala lang man pasabi, eh, ginawa na namin ito. So, gusto lang linawagin na malinao 'yung usapan.

SP Sotto: Maliwanang 'yung message. That I am attesting to that portion wherein we ratify. That's it.

Q: Sir, optimistic ba kayo on the President vetoing on these alignments?

SP Sotto: I do not want to venture a guest.

Q: Sir, the mere fact that mayroon kayong reservations sa pag-pirma, kung may kum-question doon sa ginawa ng House, House lang ang liable doon?

SP Sotto: Syempre, sila gumawa...

Q: Sir, you just drafted the letter today?

PML: Yes, today kasi 11 O'clock lang kagabi namin nag decide

Q: Sir, if the Senate President is only attesting to what has been ratified, is it a compelling reason for the President to veto it?

PML: Hindi, ang pinirmahan n'ya ay enrolled bill, mayroon lang siya reservation at naka-attach yung details ng kanyang reservation. So ang call, nasa Pangulo pa rin. Kung gusto niyang idisregard ito, we'll not take it against the Executive, kasi call niya talaga, siya ang nagaapruba, (unclear) to line item veto. So it's really their call. That is not passing the buck to the Palace. Yung kay Senate President, para lang protection nya nga rin just in case, baka wala na siya sa Senate, may kaso pa rin siya, yun ang concern.

JMZ: Parang committee report. Sa committee report we write dissent, or we concur, or what our reservations of this particular provision, sa committee report ginagawa namin yan and that committee report with annotation is actually what we look at to augment this (unclear) pag may investigations na ganito.

FMD: The President can make as a basis his exercise of the line item veto on the position of the Senate President that these items were never approved in the bicam and therefore was never passed. If the President wishes to veto, he can exercise that line item veto. If the President chooses to take a different opinion, and say hindi ako sang-ayon sa sinabi ni Senate President Tito na ito ay labag sa saligang batas, pipirmahan ko. Nobody can (unclear) to the Supreme Court and say the approval of this P95 billion was erroneous, but that is another matter. The President has the full authority to approve the whole budget if he wants to but he can also utilize the non-concurrence of the Senate on this P95 billion as the basis for the line item veto.

Q: Will the President also be liable?

FMD: No liability, he is fully authorized under the constitution to do a line item veto.

Q: If he does not veto the realignment, will he be liable?

SP Sotto: Hindi rin because approval siya. Hindi siya nagaattest to the veracity. Ang nagaattest sa veracity, yung Speaker at Senate President.

FMD: Kaya kung tingnan ninyo yung letter ni Senator Sotto, he says my attestation is limited. That's the key word there, the attestation.

Q: Clarify ko lang, hindi na niretrieve ng House yung sinubmit nilang enrolled bill?

PML: Upon advice lang ng Senate, binalik lang nila.

JMZ: I believe, I was not part of the last two meetings, but I believe they were not prepared to make modifications or amendments. Some of our friends from the other side just wanted to call a special session, to approve a particular concurrent resolution, yan na lang ang gusto nilang mangyari to legitimize the amendments but they were not going back to zero, sa gusto natin na bicam approved version.

Q: This talk of the President vetoing the realignments that you see as unconstitutional has been floated around a week already. Where did it come from, the House or the Senate?

JMZ: Actually with all due respect, we had a meeting, you interviewed me last Wednesday lumabas yan sa mga media outlets, I said the Senate President... the options on the table are one or two. First, that's why I am appealing to my colleagues in the House, let's just revert back to the approved bicameral conference committee report. Sinabi ko yun. Then sinabi ko, the other option of the Senate President is to sign it as is, but ask the President to veto particular provisions. The minority floor leader made a follow through with a more thorough legal language to that effect.

SP Sotto: The submission of the annex, my identification of annex 1, (unclear) this as an annex to my manifestation with the letter to the President incorporated into the enrolled bill will already identify and definitely ito yung sinasabi namin na hindi kasama sa itemization na pinagusapan sa bicam.

Q: With the reservations po do you also deny Representative Andaya's pronouncements yesterday na naintindihan ninyo daw po yung position nila on itemizing the budget?

SP Sotto: Medyo naliligaw ka ng kaunti. Wala kaming problema sa itemize nila, na pinagusapan sa bicam na iaiitemize nila. Walang problema yun. Yun ang pinipilit nila.

Q: He denies na realignment po kasi.

SP Sotto: That's his lookout, denying it.

JMZ: What the Senate President is it was realigned and discussed prior to the final approval during our bicameral conference committee. Wala tayong problema doon.

Q: Did Malacañang know you were going to do this?

SP Sotto: Senator Lacson was texting the Executive Secretary this morning and I had a conversation with the Executive Secretary about an hour ago and we informed him that I was signing the enrolled bill with reservations and identified yung mga may reservations.

Q: Is this the first time it happened?

FMD: Well I have worked with about 20 budgets to my recollection, ngayon lang nangyari dahil ngayon lang naman nangyari na pagkatapos ng ratification ng bicam report, nabago yung printed copy. There is always a first time.

Q: Senator Ping, doon sa communication ninyo with the palace, kay Executive Secretary?

PML: Gusto lang namin maging transparent so ininform namin yung House, ininform namin yung Executive Branch, sa gagawin ng aming Senate President para transparent lang, wala yung taguan, di ba? Kasi pangit naman yung naguusap kami kahapon, may schedule pa magusap ngayong gabi, tapos ngayon may gagawin yung Senado na hindi nila alam. So Kaninang umagang-umaga, tinext ko na si, actually tinawagan ko si Congressman Zamora.

Q: If ever the President does not veto the realignments, are you going to bring...?

PML: It's his call. Authorized siya ng constitution to line item veto or to approve en toto, so who are we to question the authority of the President?

FMD: Remember that this is the opinion of the Senate that they are unconstitutional. We are not the Supreme Court who has the final say that it is unconstitutional. This is the view of the Senate. Now, Malacañang can disagree with the view of the Senate and have their own interpretation and approve it en toto. Or may agree with the Senate, and exercise the line item veto. That is all that the Senate is saying, the view of the Senate as represented by the position of the Senate President, is that it is unconstitutional, but the President certainly is not bound with that view of the Senate.

Q: But knowing the President, as a lawyer din siya, hindi niya iaallow?

PML: Alam ninyo, ang importante may budget na tayo.

SP Sotto: The bottom line is we have submitted the budget.

Q: Di ba po pagka may preparation ng budget, may preparation na yung agency like DPWH, since possible na maveto dapat held in abeyance yung preparation?

PML: Tapos na yung preparation phase, ang preparation is yung preparation ng NEP.

Q: For the P75 billion na worth of projects, are they not supposed to be...?

PML: Hindi, let us not pre-empt the President kung magveveto ba siya o hindi. Let's pick it up from there kung yung action taken niya once he reads the budget, kung ano yung gagawin niya, kung iaapprove niya en toto, wala tayong pinaguusapan na preparation pa na mga project.

Q: Napressure na ba kayo na pirmahan, the mere fact na sinasabi na malaki yung effect sa economic growth yung pagkakadelay ng approval ng budget?

SP Sotto: Not really. Kung tutuusin, hindi. We were ready to play hardball because we know we are on the side of the constitution and we're not violating the revised penal code. But the group, with the help of the minority leader, have found a solution that will allow the budget to continue at the soonest possible time.

On Manila Water announcing to waive the March bill.

Q: Is that enough for you or should it be more?

PML: Not enough kasi marami pa silang dapat ibigay or igive back sa mga consumers. Nung hearing, di ba napagusapan natin na kung unilateral sa kanila, gawin na lang nila mas makakaganda para wala ng diskusyon with MWSS, yun ngang ginagawa pa nga lang, o hindi pa ginagawa yung Cardona, naniningil na sila, although nasa concession agreement yun. Pero dapat sila na yung magkusa na nagkalokoloko na yung supply ng tubig pagkatapos hindi pa nga nasisimulan, nasa (unclear) pa lang na approve yung Cardona water treatment, naniningil na sila sa consumer. Kung walang water crisis, fine, because that is parang sovereign guarantee. Pero nasa crisis, dapat naman umatras sila ng kaunti, wag na muna kayong maningil or iwave ninyo muna yung sa Cardona water treatment na paniningil.

On the Chico River loan agreement.

Q: What do you think of the provision stating that China may seize our patrimonial assets?

FMD: You know, we have an existing presidential decree, PD 1177, which provides for an automatic appropriation of funds to service our loans, both the interest and the principal. So, that provision on patrimonial property being held to pay for these debts, will never happen because the existing law requires automatic appropriation. That is why if you notice the budget, there is no provision there which appropriates funds for interest payments or for payments on principal. Why? Because it is not necessary since an existing law, PD 1177, authorizes the automatic appropriation of public funds to pay interest in principal, because we do not have this law, walang magpapahiram sa atin kung ang pambayad sa utang ay depende sa desisyon ng Kongreso. Eh kung ayaw mag-appropriate ng Kongreso? Di walang pambayad sa utang. That is why that law up to now exist in order to assure the creditors that there is sufficient authority under our existing laws to pay the obligation. Therefore, this theoretical exposure of our patrimonial property to foreclosure is just theoretical because in point of fact, we are obligated to pay from funds in the treasury even without need of appropriation by virtue of PD 1177.

PML: Kung Titingnan ninyo yung GAA, di ba tatlo yun? Regular budget, special purpose fund, at saka automatic appropriation. Yung special purpose fund pang-augment ito sa regular budget ng Pangulo kung kakapusin. Pero yung automatic appropriation hindi namin pinakikialaman yan pagdating ng budget deliberation. Precisely because, sabi nga ni Senator Drilon, ito yung nagproprotect kasi kasama doon yung debt service. Whether principal or interest payment, kasama sa automatic appropriation. Ito yung pinakamagandang collateral pag nangungutang. Parang assurance ito, hindi kami magrerenege. Kasi automatic appropriation nga. But, to say na pwedeng icolateralize yung patrimonial assets, mukhang may mali yata doon. Doon ako hindi magaagree. I don't know about Senator Drilon, because he is saying, he is in a better position to interpret that. Kung pwedeng isangla muna yung collateral, ay yung patrimonial assets ng ating bansa. The fact remains na hindi darating sa punto na magrerenege tayo kasi committed tayo by way of the GAA. Kasi yung annual budget natin, lagging merong debt service na nakapaloob under the automatic appropriation.

JMZ: Ang dagdag diyan, pag nagdefault tayo ng payment, ibig sabihin, mas malala ang problema natin. Bagsak ang gobyerno pag hindi nabayaran ang obligations na yan.

Q: Bakit kailangang ilagay pa yung provision na yun kung kaya naman nating magbayad?

SP Sotto: Hindi nila alam, they are not aware of the (unclear) they are not aware of the law kaya ganun.

PML: Baka educated guess.

SP Sotto: At saka mahirap, just a little levity, when you say patrimonial asset, what do you mean? Back to Smokey Mountain o Payatas?

On Police Officer Acierto's revelation on Michael Yang.

Q: Senator Lacson, worth po ba na ipursue yung revelation ni dating police officer Acierto na si Pangulong Duterte at saka si Bato, dinismiss yung intel report about Micheal Yang?

PML: Yes, dapat ipursue kasi siyempre iniinvolve yung highest office, (unclear) highest position sa gobyerno, dapat lang ipursue yung investigation just to clear the air. Kung meron bang basis yung accusation ni Acierto. I'm not saying na credible yung accusation because I've seen that report even before the Senate hearing. Ako hindi ko masyadong naappreciate except for the photographs shown, but yung details hindi ko masyadong naappreciate at that time.

Q: Considering na adviser siya ni Presidente si Michael Yang di ba?

PML: Yes. Pinakita rin niya sa akin, he went to my office, before he was accused, di ba?

Q: You find the report credible?

PML: May mga butas na hindi ako believe, so ang sabi ko sa kanya, provide me with all the details. Hindi pwede itong ganito lang na ipapakita mo, photographs, kasi di ba naging issue na rin sa mga previous hearings namin, yung picture ni Senator De Lima, kasama si Kevin Espinosa, picture ni President Duterte, may kasamang kung sino. Hindi masyadong convincing pag picture lang.

Q: He should be arrested po ba?

PML: I think, May arrest warrant.

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