Transcript of Interview of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III with Pinky Webb of The Source, CNN Philippines

On the meeting with President Duterte on the 2019 budget

Q: What exactly happened in Tuesday night during the meeting?

SP Sotto: Well the President opened the meeting right after sitting down by saying that he wants this impasse resolved and I am telling you now, he said, his exact words, "I will not sign anything unless Senate President Sotto signs it." So our feeling is that there is a message right there at the House of Representatives that he says, fix it, as it is, because I, I will not sign if I will be complicit to the violation of the revised penal code, and the violation of the Constitution, to us, it's as simple as that.

Q: I was thinking about that because that was the story yesterday, but also in hindsight, he can not sign anything that you will not sign, because it does not become a legal document.

SP Sotto: Yes but there is a possibility that they will send it direct to the President, bypass the Senate.

Q: But without the signature of the Senate President? Is that even possible?

SP Sotto: They can do that, it's not possible. It's not possible, but they can do that.

Q: After that, what happened?

SP Sotto: The House chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Congressman Andaya, started by saying that what they did was part of the itemization and all that, and he was saying something about the Senate also doing the same thing after ratification, which was corrected by Senator Legarda. Senator Legarda asked for the floor right away and explained what Congressman Andaya was saying, and then after so many words, and I had to butt in already because there were these interpretations being mentioned, Senator Lacson came up with a suggestion, He told President, the best way Mr. President for us to resolve this, is for the House to recall what they sent us today, that they sent during that day and remove the realignments, the internal realignments that they did after the ratification. And then we will approve it, we will approve it, we will sign it, the Senate President will sign it, we will give it to you. Indeed there will be lump sum appropriations then but it is up to the President on what to do with it. As far as the President is concerned if he does that it will not be a violation of the Constitution unlike if we did.

Q: And then?

SP Sotto: The President said something to the effect that "it seems like my head hurts, that's what it is." We said, if someone asks you, Mr. President, from the House, they will ask for it. If you do not, please do not, or you do not want to. And then Executive Secretary Medialdea who was on his right side, on his left was Secretary Sonny Dominguez, both were nodding their heads and they agreed as a matter of fact when we talked to them personally, that would be the best option. The House did not say anything.

Q: That's where I was going to go. What did they do to that?

SP Sotto: I did not hear them say they are not in favor.

Q: But did they say they were in favor?

SP Sotto: I do not recall also.

Q: Were they quiet?

SP Sotto: For that portion? I think so. I do not recall anything that would go against the suggestion. We thought that's okay.

Q: Since the House contingent did not speak, did you understand it as they agreed? Is that right?

SP Sotto: Well, acquiescence, we could say.

Q: Apparently, they do not bellow, that's what they mean, so they agreed?

SP Sotto: It's our sense, so we were surprised when the following day they were saying that it's not possible and they will stand pat with what they submitted already. Well, it's their own lookout, as far as we are concerned, we are expecting them to recall what they sent.

Q: You are not going to move, is that so? Let's get it very factually. Will the Senate not run until the irecall has been sent to you and returned to the original?

SP Sotto: Yes. Original that we have ratified. Included that they say they itemize after ratification, all right, since 1987 it's being done, itemized their budget. Like for example, they say we know that, we initemize us. We initemize, before ratification. Even after ratification, initemize our budget, or the budget we've put. What we say, you visit, that's not your budget. They approached the budget of DPWH and placed in the districts.

Q: We need to talk about that because not all of us understand what happened in the budget because there are allegations by Senator Ping Lacson, and then the congressmen are saying there's no such thing, itemization versus lump sum. Let's get into the nitty-gritty. They say they itemize, versus you saying what? Not only did they itemize, but they reallocate?

SP Sotto: They have internal realignment.

Q: Which is illegal, you are saying.

SP Sotto: Yes, it is illegal. Let's say there is a hundred pesos and that is your money, and that is what you presented in the bicam. In the bicam, you ratified and then you will itemize now, you will say ten pesos is for this, ten pesos is for that, that's fine. That's what has been done in all Congresses, okay yun. This is not it. You have a different budget. The realignment, not a hundred pesos. The one you took, the President's one hundred pesos and put it in your districts is not that expensive. There is no ratification or that we talk about it.

Q: Is Senator Ping saying that money would be used to fund Build, Build, Build, what did they get?

SP Sotto: Yes.

Q: And are they in their districts?

SP Sotto: Yes.

Q: And to be clear, in the districts of whom, Speaker of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?

SP Sotto: Yeah, those who are allies and those who are allies and do not belong to us, we do not know if they did not complain. When it comes to us, complains immediately. There you will see the situation. It's so easy to look at how the situation is really. In the Senate, all 23 senators are in sink, we have no problem as far as this issue is concerned. The House of Representatives, the complainant, complained. Aside from the fact that there was disparity in their hospital facilities enhancement program, the other gave P8-million, the other was given P25-million, the same.

Q: So what do you mean by taking the fund ...?

SP Sotto: That's another. They are just partial of their itemization, just congressman.

Q: How much are we talking about? Are we talking about P96-billion?

SP Sotto: We know that the total is P96-billion.

Q: Is this P96-billion, again just for clarification, what was the fund for the Build, Build, Build and put into the district?

SP Sotto: P72-billion we know. That's where P96-billion I think there were other movements, I think, I am not familiar with that, it was Senator Lacson who was more or less in the know of where the rest, how it happened, and where it ...

Q: So P72-billion for sure is said to be the President's budget, for the Build, Build, Build project, which went to the allies of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

SP Sotto: And in the districts of the people.

Q: Do you know also if the P72-billion also forms part of the health enhancement program, what did Senator Ping say?

SP Sotto: That's another.

Q: More yun, that's different? There is an overpriced mandato, where do they buy over-priced ambulance of P2.5 million?

SP Sotto: Something to that effect but that's just another thing, because it's just clear that if it's just plain clear to them, I'm sure they are monitoring you, if they did before ratification, before bicam and inapprove with bicam , what we can do, that's what they're trying to do, they can not agree with their bicam (unclear), do not. They did, after we've been notified. After we have agreed to do it. Our issue is, Now, why so long time? Look, face back, that is, July, the President will send them a budget, us usually, before October, before the Halloween break called or first week of October, that's where we are. That's it. We, by December, that's okay. Nathre-thresh out all that. No. November 20 sent to us. December 4 is sponsoring us on the floor. So it's impossible for us to break the Christmas break, we'll try to get that out of course. By January 21, we approved it, in February 8, we were quick to do so, in February 8 we were able to ratify the bicam report. They ratified February 11. Imagine, from July to February 11, July of 2018, to February 11 of 2019, then you have to wait thereafter?

Q: If they realigned, did they not think that the senators can see them? If you've seen it, according to you from the articles I've read, your Senate research has been seen.

SP Sotto: Originally, those who called our attention were the officers of the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) that has been there for more than 40 years.

Q: My question is, how can congressmen just realign knowing that you look at it?

SP Sotto: Maybe we can not look at it. Or maybe the explanation that they are saying now is that they are itemizing. There is no problem with us, just your budget itemization, but the budgeting of the President is off.

Q: The congressmen are saying, you also, you are also considering the budget. True or false?

SP Sotto: Yes. We come when it was time for us to scrutinize it, to amend it, to propose amendments. For example, in DPWH, there is P75-billion that the DPWH Secretary does not know how to get there. In DILG, there is P27-billion that the Secretary of DILG does not know. What will we do? We will turn a blind eye? No. We amended, we realigned that, but we realigned during the time that we can realign.

Q: Before ratification?

SP Sotto: Before ratification. The point is, my point is, after ratification, I will certify to the correctness and the accuracy of the budget. How can I do that when they changed it?

Q: I understand where you are coming from. Here is the question, again, just to be clear, what they say, we just itemize, to which you are saying, no, you are realigned.

SP Sotto: Yes. They itemize their finances.

Q: What is the motive behind it?

SP Sotto: I do not know, your guess is as good as mine.

Q: Some people are saying because it's the campaign season. Is it?

SP Sotto: Oh yes. That's part of it, I'm sure. It's a major factor. Maybe.

Q: What can happen? Senator Ping Lacson is saying, can it be re-enacted until August?

SP Sotto: Yes, as a matter of fact, if that is what's going to happen, the Secretary of finance has already presented to us the effect on the economic growth if it's passed in August and also if it is not passed at all. If it is re-enacted the whole year. There is also a percentage that he said (unclear). Now, it is up to the House, it's in their House now, it's not in our hands because we will resume on May 20. We have only three weeks after that and after that most of them, if not most of the officers, will end their terms. There will be a new Congress that we will be talking to, a new Speaker, new officers, in July.

Q: Can you answer this straight, is it hard to speak to the Speaker? Is it hard to speak to Congressman Andaya? Is it hard to speak to Congressman Castro? Are they difficult to talk to?

SP Sotto: No, I'm not saying that they are hard talking, I say, we do not see eye to eye. We do not match eye to eye, and what they tell us we can not receive.

Q: I asked that because my understanding is in the next Congress, Speaker's term is over, the Congressman Andaya's term is over, so we went there, because there will be a new set of leaders. Are you hoping that you will see eye to eye or they might be easier to speak to, is that so?

SP Sotto: Well, most probably, because they are new, they will be very courteous, be cordial, or perhaps that will have the President's influence on that leadership.

Q: It seems that Senator Lacson has a personal vendetta's angle to Speaker Arroyo ...

SP Sotto: No I do not think so, not at all. As a matter of fact, it is said that because that is the consequence. The Speaker was not a problem, our problem, those around him.

Q: Who?

SP Sotto: Those who hold the budget.

Q: Which is Congressman Andaya?

SP Sotto: Probably, and the members of the Committee on Appropriations that are doing this, because of the consequences of Speaker Arroyo because it will happen to me. If I sign that, I will be violating the revised penal code Section 170, which is falsification of legislative documents punishable by a penalty of prision correctional to its maximum term. It's okay, not mentioning the fact that it's unconstitutional.

Q: The other opinion is when you sign it and SGMA signs it, can it be a question of the Supreme Court? Can I even get there?

SP Sotto: How to get there if I gamble myself that I might be suing you? I can not accept it, would I signify that I know something wrong? Not allowed. We did not pass it. That is not what we ratified, how can I agree to something that we did not do?

Q: Moving forward, how do you wait for the House first?

SP Sotto: The best thing about yesterday. Yesterday there was a new development. Senator Ping Lacson had a talk with Congressman Ronnie Zamora. They had a long talk and the suggestion was that again, recall the submitted GAB to us and from there we could probably amend or let the President veto that portion, then we can convene even one day a special session and pass a joint resolution approving a supplemental budget for that particular few percent, or 3 percent of the budget.

Q: You are talking about the P96-billion?

SP Sotto: I think it's more than that. That's all we know we've seen.

Q: What can happen, you can have a special session, when?

SP Sotto: Right after the President signs it. If so, let's just say what I'm saying, I'll send it to the President, what the President will do, here, this lump sum, my veto. That's his vinyl, it will not disappear, it will remain there and therefore we can convene into a special session, and address that particular portion of the budget.

Q: What is the supplemental budget you say?

SP Sotto: Yes, we can forward a supplemental budget.

Q: When will this be?

SP Sotto: As soon as possible, as soon as the President signs it or vetoes any portion of the budget. They can do that and then they're sitting until June 30. I think they should accept our suggestion, because after June 30, the person we're talking about is different.

On the water problem.

Q: How do you see it? Water problem, water shortage or crisis?

SP Sotto: I filed a resolution yesterday and as a matter of fact, I called Senator Grace Poe, who is the chairman of the Committee on Public Services, because that is the committee that should handle it. We want to know what's wrong. What went wrong, what's going on, and how did this happen? How it should not ever happen again. And then, of course, I'm just a new senator, along with Freddie Webb, we say that we have the day, we desalination plans. Why Saudi Arabia, the Middle East countries, the strength of the water? Lots of water? We were surrounded by water, they did, they desalination, we desecrate it even dearly. The answer is, it's definitely worth it, because we love spending more on what blows?

Q: We are talking about a resolution that Senator Grace said that an investigation is going to be on Tuesday, how now? What can be done now, what should government do now? What can senators do now prior to the hearing on Tuesday?

SP Sotto: The truth is, the Executive Department really has to do it right, but we're just helping to get it back and forth. That's what we can do at present. As far as the present situation is concerned, I think the Executive Department has more chances of trying to resolve it.

Q: But who? DA, MWSS?

SP Sotto: Which departments are involved here. There are many involved here, as DOH becomes involved.

Q: How serious of a concern is this for you?

SP Sotto: It's very serious. The power of the entire Philippines is losing, which we feel is very difficult, right? It is said that if any power plants, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant wants to open, but water? That's the worst. The most important is water, water is life.

On the 16 year old victim in Cebu.

Q: It was a death penalty a few days ago, what is its chances?

SP Sotto: Yes, I already filed that, and I was the original author of the reimposition of the death penalty during the 9th and the 10th Congress, this time I was really concentrating on the high-level drug trafficking but with witnessing heinous crimes like this, you know how angry our people are. Majority of our people want the death penalty back for heinous crimes. Now, it's Senator Pacquiao and I who are sponsoring it in the Senate. I can not count 13 now that in favor, I am not sure about the others. But the way things are happening, many are willing to share with us. But then again we have three weeks to go, we resume in May, with a tyamba, can get away, but if not, then during the elections, the electorate, I suggest you vote for senators who are in favor, because the House passed it already . They passed it already, in the Senate for a long time. If they are in favor of the death penalty, vote for senators who are in favor of the death penalty. If you are not in favor of the death penalty, the vote for candidates who are not in favor.

Q: Are you in favor of including this one that happened to the 16 year old?

SP Sotto: Heinous crime. Rape and murder can. I was only a high level drug trafficking, but it, rape and murder, should be included. It's not necessary we use all the time, not so. There are safeguards. This will be a defense mechanism of the government. We must be bound to have a death penalty. Look, around Southeast Asia, around Asia, we have no death penalty. Indonesia, they do not produce drugs there, it's done to us because they have a death penalty. Singapore, Malaysia, China, everyone has a death penalty, we do not. The criminal drug syndicates are crowded with us here.

Source: Senate of the Philippines