P95-B House realignments vetoed
MANILA, Philippines — Four months into the fiscal year, President Duterte finally signed yesterday the P3.7-trillion national budget for 2019, without the P95.3-billion realignments made by the House of Representatives.
Unlike in the past, the signing of Republic Act 11260 was done without ceremony, and without the presence of any member of either chamber of Congress, who had bickered over their entitlements in the annual appropriation.
Sources told The STAR that Duterte decided to forgo a public ceremony, in what was seen as a manifestation of presidential pique at Congress. Instead, only Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea was present during the signing at the Study Room of Malacañang, the sources said.
Medialdea and Senate President Vicente Sotto III confirmed last night that the budget was signed without the House realignments.
Sotto, who is in Bangkok, said Medialdea informed him by phone that the President vetoed some portions of the budget based on the recommendation of the Senate.
“Hindi lang P75 billion kung hindi P95.3 billion ‘yung sinabing na-veto (Not only P75 billion but P95.3 billion was vetoed),” Sotto told The STAR.
Medialdea confirmed that the President vetoed more than P95 billion in public works projects because these are not included in the administration’s priorities.
“The President, among others, vetoed P95.3 billion items of appropriations in the details of DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) programs/projects, which are not within the programmed priorities,” Medialdea said in a text message.
Earlier, there were invitations sent to lawmakers to attend the signing of the budget slated at 4 p.m. yesterday, but those invited had to await final word if the event would push through.
The media advisory for the signing was scrapped from the supposed schedule of reporters covering Malacañang.
Several high-ranking officials were mum about the budget when asked by The STAR for update. Even Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said there was no advance information as to developments on the budget.
The President earlier said he was ready to veto the proposed budget if he finds it anomalous.
“Kapag tagilid talaga (If it’s really indefensible), I will not hesitate to veto the entire budget, eh di pasensya tayong lahat (nothing we can do about it),” the President earlier said in a speech in Bacolod City.
Sotto said there were indications Duterte would exercise his line-item veto power over the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Sotto said he based his assessment on his previous conversations with Medialdea and Nograles, who were working closely with Duterte.
The Senate president signed and transmitted the proposed budget with a letter of reservations after some House members allegedly manipulated the bicameral conference report ratified by the upper and lower chambers.
Sotto said he was informed by Medialdea that the President “has been carefully reading” the letter he sent.
He also expressed belief that there would be no ceremonial signing of the budget to avoid an awkward moment in announcing the President had to cut some portions of pork barrel in the GAB.
The government has been operating on a reenacted budget since January after Congress failed to transmit the GAB to the Office of the President. Some senators claimed several congressmen made realignments involving P75 billion in the House version of GAB.
Sotto joked a ceremonial signing might lead to a “boxing” bout once the provisions removed from the budget were announced.
Sotto said Medialdea told him the President was still studying the recommendation of the Department of Budget and Management on the appropriations measure.
The senator said the budget bill would lapse into law on April 26 or 30 days after the Senate transmitted the final copy.
House senior Deputy Majority Leader Rodante Marcoleta also expressed confidence that Duterte would sign the budget with some vetoed provisions.
“I don’t think the President will veto the 2019 budget in its entirety. He knows only too well the downside of a reenacted budget,” Marcoleta said.
Marcoleta, of party-list 1-Sagip, noted the current disagreements between senators, who refused to itemize their billions in lump-sum pork barrel fund allocations, and congressmen will not hold hostage the entire spending measure.
“The posturing of a few senators cannot compromise his (Duterte’s) duty to decide for the greater good,” Marcoleta, a lawyer like Duterte, said.
Liberal Party senatorial bet Mar Roxas said it was important to have a budget and the delay in its signing was unfortunate due to “continued bickering” over the pork barrel.
In an interview in Tarlac City, Roxas, who is running under Otso Diretso, said there are more important issues than pork barrel that lawmakers should tackle.
“There’s no debate on how can we help the agriculture sector which has been suffering from El Niño. Why are they not discussing the automatic inclusion of farmers as beneficiaries of (conditional cash transfer). These are the things they should be debating on,” the former senator said.
Roxas was referring to the government’s CCT program popularly known as Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, which started during the Arroyo administration. – With Alexis Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores