By Charmaine A. Tadalan, April 17 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Business World

MALACAÑANG on Tuesday said the P95.3-billion allocations President Rodrigo R. Duterte vetoed in the original P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 were found to be “unconstitutional.”

“Those are the so called ‘insertions,’ ‘riders,’ they are not part of the program by the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), hence, they violate the Constitution,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a briefing, Tuesday.

Mr. Duterte on Monday signed the national budget into law as Republic Act No. 11260, or the “General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2019.”

He partially vetoed the budget, cutting it to P3.662-trillion, including P95.3 billion under the DPWH budget which Mr. Panelo confirmed were among the post-ratification realignments.

Asked if the vetoed items were among the “last-minute” fund realignments made by the House of Representatives, Mr. Panelo replied “Correct, it is.”

Among others, Mr. Duterte also directly vetoed some appropriations under the Department of Labor and Employment-National Labor Relations Commission, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Department of Trade and Industry.

The 2019 budget, which failed to secure year-end 2018 enactment, was transmitted to the Office of the President on March 26 after a row between the House of Representatives and the Senate over alleged realignments made after its ratification on Feb. 8.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Senate Finance committee vice-chairman, said budget is now “pork-free” after the partial veto.

“I am confident the 2019 budget is now-pork free as the Senate leadership made sure that our LBRMO (Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office) had scrutinized enough before submitting to DBM (Department of Budget and Management) under (Acting) Sec. Janet (B.) Abuel the list of questionable items,” Senator Lacson said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The economic team in turn promised to go over the list, and more with a fine-toothed comb, including individual insertions made by some senators amounting to at least P20B[illion].”

House Appropriations committee Chairman Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. of Camarines Sur’s 1st District, however, that insertions by some senators could still be “intact”.

“It behooves the Senate to tell the people how much in their insertions were carried in the national budget, and how big is the bacon each senator is bringing home.”

Sought for comment, Political Science Professor Marlon M. Villarin of the University of Sto. Tomas said the recent budget development might affect the President’s rapport with members of the House of Representatives and some local officials.

“Socially, it won’t affect President Duterte’s priority projects because all are programmed well in the 2019 budget,” Mr. Villarin said in a mobile phone message on Tuesday.

“But this will politically affect his relationship both with members of the House and some local gov’t officials who already hoped the President will dispense what their districts need.”

At the same time, “[t]his move by the PRRD doesn’t mean he is siding with the Senate,” Mr. Villarin said, using Mr. Duterte’s initials.

“The President is just being (politically and legally) consistent with his promise to the people that, under his watch, corruption such us illegal fund insertions in the national budget (as practiced by previous administrations) will never be tolerated.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan