For 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.