AFTER weeks of wrangling and horse-trading, Congress ratified on Friday the P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 and sent it to President Rodrigo Duterte for his signature.
The chairman of the House appropriations committee, Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., now wants to make sure he gets his way, and prevent any more changes not to his liking, in particular the restoration of the alleged P75-billion “insertion” to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Congress’s decision to delete the supposed insertion was well within its prerogative, as the legislature holds the power of the purse, so to speak.
Now that the budget has passed through the legislative wringer, it is the turn of the Executive branch, led by the President, to scrutinize the 2019 outlay before affixing his signature to it.
It is presumptuous, therefore, of Andaya — who had delayed the budget’s passage for weeks because of his quarrels with Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno — to suspect the budget chief and the secretary to the Cabinet, Karlo Nograles, to be hatching a plan to reinsert the P75 billion through a line-item veto.
Andaya is even planning to take his case to the Supreme Court, and join forces with Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson.
First of all, Andaya should respect the President’s veto powers. The 1987 Constitution allows the Chief Executive to return an entire bill to Congress for review if he objects to the measure. In the case of budget or tax bills, he can veto only specific items. The Charter states: “The President shall have the power to veto any particular item or items in an appropriation, revenue, or tariff bill, but the veto shall not affect the item or items to which he does not object.”
Andaya even insults the presidency by implying that the Chief Executive would sign just any veto message drafted by the Budget secretary and the secretary to the Cabinet without studying it. The good representative of Camarines Sur should give the President more credit.
But all this is speculation. We do not yet know how the P75 billion would be returned, if the Palace really would like it returned. The presidential line-item veto can only strike out specific items in the budget and cannot introduce new items.
Malacañang, however, has vowed to veto any form of “pork” in the budget, in compliance with a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed it.
At any rate, if Andaya feels so strongly about keeping intact the budget bill as approved by the House and the Senate, he should be able to marshal the required two-thirds vote in both chambers to override the President’s veto.
He was, after all, leader of the House majority coalition for several months before relinquishing the post to focus on the budget business.
Andaya should not expect any presidential intervention in Congress’s exercise of an override, any more than the President expects no intervention from lawmakers in his power to veto the budget.
Both are prerogatives enshrined in the Constitution, and are the mechanisms of checks and balances so essential to a republican democracy.