Duterte vetoes 4 ‘unconstitutional’ items in 2018 budget
President Rodrigo Duterte has vetoed four items in the 2018 national budget, saying they were “riders” inserted by congressmen in “attempts to circumvent the Constitution.”
The President told lawmakers about his decision in his 11-page veto message, which zeroed in on minor provisions pertaining to the augmentation of funds, benefit grants and collection of fees in four agencies in the General Appropriations Act (GAA), which he signed last week.
“These ‘rider’ provisions must accordingly be subject to direct veto,” Mr. Duterte said. “Under my administration, attempts to circumvent the Constitution will never be countenanced.”
The veto message was received by the House of Representatives on Wednesday and released to reporters by Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.
“Provisions embraced in this budget [that] do not relate to some particular appropriation and are introduced herein with the purpose of amending existing laws and rules have no place in the general appropriations bill,” it said.
One of the vetoed items pertained to the provision allowing the Department of Education to use P22.886 million of its allocations for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) to fund “items that may be classified as capital outlay.”
Mr. Duterte said agencies “ought to spend what is programmed in their appropriations,” instead of being allowed to augment the capital outlay needs — or to construct new facilities and purchase new equipment — with funds earmarked for MOOE requirements.
He said “any modification shall first comply with the requirements” under the law’s general provisions on augmentation of funds.
Similarly, he vetoed the provision allowing the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to use its income to augment its operational requirements. Instead, Mr. Duterte said the ERC should “make efficient use of its budget and automatic appropriations” totaling P413.6 million.
The ERC’s income was already identified as a funding source in the Non-tax Revenue Program for the year 2018, which would have resulted in its double programming.
Mr. Duterte also rejected the grant of “monitoring expenses” to the members of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) because the Salary Standardization Law already authorized them to receive honoraria or per diems.
He also vetoed the GAA’s prohibition on the collection of fees related to the retention or reacquisition of Philippine citizenship, saying “agencies of the government cannot be deprived of their inherent authority to assess reasonable fees in the provision of services.”
“Indeed, the laws and rules I referred to cannot be simply changed by the inclusion of the vetoed special provisions,” Mr. Duterte said.
These amendments, he said, could be “properly dealt with in a separate substantive law,” not the budget.
Fees for drug rehab
Mr. Duterte’s message also provided for the “conditional implementation” of the Department of Science and Technology’s use of income for its research and development institutes and the Dangerous Drugs Board’s use of its collections for drug rehabilitation activities.
Because these funding sources were also double-programmed in the budget, the implementation of these two items would be subject to the generation of excess income and collections.
Mr. Duterte also placed the budgetary support for government corporations under conditional implementation, requiring all subsidies to be used by Dec. 31, 2018, pursuant to Congress’ adoption of a one-year validity of appropriations.
Subsidies unspent by the government corporations by the end of the year would revert to the unappropriated surplus of the general fund.
Mr. Duterte also conditioned the release of government support for supplemental benefits under the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.’s program upon the full utilization of the P3.5-billion allocation for expanded benefits under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund. This was to avoid the duplication of program and beneficiaries.
He also tasked the Commission on Higher Education to harmonize the implementation of cash grants for medical students with the Department of Health’s “comparable” Preservice Scholarship Program.
Mr. Duterte urged the Supreme Court to ensure the “equitable allocation and immediate release of its MOOE” to all lower courts, now that the judiciary’s financial independence was bolstered by allocating the fund directly instead of through local government units.
Protecting state workers
He also stressed his “primordial concern” of protecting ordinary government employees from being burdened by salary deductions to pay off their debts.
Mr. Duterte said instead of cutting salaries in favor of these loan facilities, the government should even “leverage” its position to secure more favorable terms for the employees.
“Government agencies are not merely collecting agents for these institutions, but influential representatives of government employees availing [themselves] of this salary deduction facility,” he said.
BI trust fund
Mr. Duterte also allowed the creation of a trust fund to pay for the salaries and overtime pay of Bureau of Immigration employees whose “extremely low” rates have led to a large number of resignations and impaired front-line services.
The trust fund would be sourced from express lane fees and charges until Congress passes a new immigration modernization law that would upgrade their compensation.
“I take special note of the plight of our employees at the Bureau of Immigration, who constitute the first line of defense in securing our borders,” he said.
Immigration personnel reportedly have a take-home pay of P11,000 to P13,000 after the airlines in 2012 stopped giving them allowances for their overtime work.
Mr. Duterte also said the GAA would be adopted as “the allotment order,” so agencies need not line up for the release of their appropriations by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Exceptions are items identified by the DBM as requiring the compliance with conditions or the submission of requirements before the allotments are released. —With a report from Philip C. Tubeza
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.