President Duterte vetoed P95.4 billion in public works projects in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill of 2019 (GAB 2019) when he signed the bill into law last April 15, about three weeks after the Office of the President received the bill on March 26.
The President vetoed the P95.4 billion items, principally because they were “not consistent with the programmed priorities“ of the national government, as spelled out in the administration’s original budget proposal for the Department of Public Works and Highways.
The administration had set aside funding for many major projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program – for new roads and bridges nationwide, airports and seaports, school buildings and other needed government structures.
Some congressmen sought to include their own projects in their districts – school buildings and gymnasiums, health centers, covered courts, drainage canals, etc., which were not in the overall plan but of special interest to the congressmen’s constituents.
In an earlier era, these local projects were allowed as part of the congressmen’s unwritten benefits.
It was even charged that they got percentages from the contractors they chose for the projects.
But the whole system, called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in its final years, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013.
A second reason for the presidential veto was that the vetoed items had been added by some House leaders after the appropriations bill had already been approved by the Bicameral Conference Committee, thus Senate President Vicente Sotto III officially informed President Duterte that the Senate was approving the General Appropriations Bill, but with reservations on the additions made by the House leaders, and urged him to veto them.
Senator Sotto was referring to P75 billion which some House leaders had itemized where there had previously been a lump sum.
As President Duterte actually vetoed P95.4 billion, the difference of P20.4 billion could be unprogrammed projects that may have been inserted by some senators.
In any case, the presidential veto effectively removed P95.4 billion which was at the core of the delay in the 2019 national budget.
Because the senators and congressmen could not agree on this one issue, the General Appropriations Bill for 2019 was delayed for three months – one entire quarter.
Projects programmed for the year could not be started.
There will be effects on the Gross National Product (GNP) at the end of the year.
We trust that all the officials concerned, particularly the members of Congress, will learn from this experience.
First, they should coordinate from the beginning with national public works officials, if they hope to have their special projects included among the “programmed priorities” in the overall national public works plan.
Second, constitutional processes must be followed strictly, such as those specified in the approval of laws.
Changes in a bill already bicamerally approved may have been tolerated in the past, but no longer, it seems, under the present administration.