The 2019 nat’l budget is  finally  approved

Published March 30, 2019, 12:57 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON MAR 30, 2019For  three months, the approval of the national budget  or General Appropriation Bill (GAB) was stuck in Congress because the Senate and  the House of Representatives  could not agree on certain provisions.

They did meet in a Bicameral  Conference  Committee  which  reached  agreement  on  various items in the bill, but  then, according to the senators,  the congressmen  continued to make changes in the  bill. In  particular, the congressmen allegedly  reallocated P75 billion listed under the Local Infrastructure  Program of the Department  of Public Works and Highways.

The  congressmen  retorted that  they were simply itemizing the lump sums in the bill, as lump sums  had been allegedly used to hide the “pork barrel” of the congressmen. But the senators said no further changes  should  have been made after  the Bicameral Conference Committee approved the bill. Thus Senate President  Vicente Sotto III refused to sign the bill with the itemized  items  totaling  P75 billion.

Last  Tuesday, Senate President  Sotto finally announced  what  he deemed a compromise  solution to the impasse. He said he had finally signed the General Appropriation  Bill for 2019, but  “with reservation” on the P75 billion which  the Senate charged had been reallocated but which the House  claimed was merely itemized.

The  constitutional  requirement of the Senate president and the House speaker signing  the budget bill is now met. The bill can now be presented to President Duterte for his signature. He may, under the Constitution,  veto particular items approved by Congress.

Senate President Sotto, in his letter to the President  explaining his signing “with reservation,” urged the President  to veto the itemized  P75 billion.  The President   could do that in  line with the senators’  position  that no further change should be made after a bill has been approved  by  a  Bicameral  Conference Committee.  But  he  could also choose to keep the items, in line with the basic  principle in the Constitution that it is  the House  that approves all revenue bills,  “but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.”

In any case, we welcome the end of the long  period of inaction on the 2019 General Appropriation Bill for P3.757 trillion.  Malacanang  should  be able to speed up  funding  operations in  the coming months to help make up for the three months of congressional  stalemate.