Duterte signs 2019 budget, vetoes ₱95.3-B infra projects

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 15) — After months of delay, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday has finally signed the proposed national budget for 2019.

However, the President rejected ₱95.3 billion of the ₱3.757 trillion appropriation. A copy of the President's veto message, however, has yet to be released.

According to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the vetoed amount was allocated for programs that are not among the administration's priority initiatives.

"The President, among others, vetoed 95.3 Billion pesos 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.

Both the Senate and House ratified the 2019 General Appropriations Act in February, but the proposal's enactment was delayed due to a tiff on supposed unauthorized "insertions."

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and other senators had previously denounced the ₱75 billion worth of programs and projects under the DPWH budget that were itemized by the House of Representatives after the bicameral conference committee report was ratified.

Senator Ping Lacson, who denounced the insertions and likened them to pork barrel, lauded Duterte and his economic managers over the budget's passage.

"I have to see the veto message first although I think it is safe to assume that at least most if not all of the P75 (billion) worth of items as listed by (Senate President) Sotto was part of the president's veto message. It is that, or the P20 (billion) plus insertions made by some senators was included as well. Either way, it is victory for the Filipino taxpayers," Lacson said in a statement.

House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr., who first introduced the insertions in December 2018, said he will wait for the veto message to be released.

"There are many kinds of veto. It has many variants. There is the direct veto, and the conditional veto. The president can also place several provisions under conditional implementation and attach requisites before an appropriations can be released so that such act complies with the laws," he said.

He also questioned the "celebratory mood" of some senators over the deletion of the itemized programs and projects.

"Does this mean that the Senate pork remains intact? Could this be the reason for their celebratory mood," Andaya said.

But House Majority Floor Leader Fredenil Castro said the lower House will accept the President's decisions.

"We will abide with the President's decision and respect the thorough study made by his team after all factors were considered. With the signing, we can all buckle down to work and start implementing the President's priority projects for the Filipino people," Castro said in a statement.

The government has been operating on a reenacted 2018 budget for four months since Congress' failure to pass the budget bill.

Malacañang said the earlier scheduled ceremonial signing may be pushed back until after the Holy Week, pending the President's review. Duterte had reiterated that he would not sign an 'illegal' budget.

The senators said the insertions were illegal, but House members maintained they did not do anything wrong.

READ: The struggle for the 2019 national budget