Senators hail Duterte veto of P95.3-B infra funds in 2019 budget

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Tuesday, April 16, hailed President Rodrigo Duterte's veto of questionable allotments in the P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019.

Duterte on Monday, April 15, signed the 2019 General Appropriations Act but vetoed P95.3 billion meant for infrastructure projects. These include the supposed P75 billion worth of insertions by the House of Representatives, which stalled the budget's approval. (READ: Senate, House fail to reach consensus on 2019 budget after Duterte meeting)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the rejection of the questionable allotments is a "victory" for the people.

"We do not need to pay attention to brickbats. It's the people's victory. The illegal realignments cannot escape the President's scrutiny," he told reporters in a message.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who strongly criticized the House's insertions, shared the same sentiment.

"If there is one act of PRRD (Duterte) that is worthy of admiration, this veto message is on top of my list. With his guts, glory comes to the Filipino taxpayers," Lacson said on Twitter.

He added that the veto would result in P19.06 billion of savings in "pork commission" – supposedly 20% of the vetoed funds.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Duterte's action has legal basis in the 1997 Supreme Court (SC) ruling on Joker Arroyo vs De Venecia, where the SC ruled that "the attestations by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President serve as a solemn assurance that the measure was indeed passed by Congress."

It was the opposition senator's idea that practically helped end the impasse. Upon Drilon's suggestion, Sotto signed the budget bill with "strong reservations" and transmitted it to Malacañang.

In a letter to Duterte, Sotto had said that realignments made by the House after the bicameral conference committee report were unconstitutional.

"The assurance given by Senate President Sotto, in this case, was qualified. The Senate President only attested to the approval of that portion of the bill not affected by the realignments. Thus, the President's line item veto is based on legal and constitutional grounds, and not because the President sided with the Senate," Drilon said.

Senate economic affairs committee chairperson Sherwin Gatchalian said he is "relieved" that the 2019 budget has finally been signed, adding that "further delay would have caused adverse effects on our macroeconomy."

"I also appreciate that the President has chosen to veto the changes made by the lower house to the ratified version of the General Appropriations Bill. The veto is proof that the Senate was right all along in saying that the changes made were unconstitutional," Gatchalian said.

Senator Grace Poe also thanked Duterte for signing the budget into law and for vetoing the questionable provisions.

"The budget should ensure that our economy will work for everybody, especially the poor, who most need basic services. Our task does not end here. Equally important is to see to it that the money is spent where it was allocated, and is felt by the people," she said. – Rappler.com