MANILA , MAY 22, 2010
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has retained the presidential powers to impound “pork” allocations, as she struck down provisions in the national budget inserted by congressmen aimed at clipping the chief executive’s powers over the funds.

In her 18-page veto message to Congress, Mrs. Arroyo made a conditional veto of Section 67 of the General Provisions of the General Appropriations Act (GAA) that prohibited the “impoundment” or withholding of appropriations like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the euphemism for pork barrel.

Mrs. Arroyo also vetoed a provision that would have given senators and congressmen a say on the construction of farm-to-market roads.

Senators and congressmen had inserted an additional P64.6 billion in the GAA by lopping off interest and debt payments.

“Accordingly, release of the increased items of appropriations is subject to the identification by Congress of new revenue measures in support thereof,” Mrs. Arroyo said in her veto message that accompanied her signing of the P1.54-trillion spending measure.

“Indeed, without such new revenue measures, the executive will have no cash support for these items of expenditures introduced by Congress and will not be able to release said appropriations in accordance with this general provision,” she said.

An official of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the President’s move was tantamount to a total veto as lawmakers are not likely to comply with the conditions, especially on the matter of raising taxes.

“It’s like saying: ‘I’ll give you the money as long as you can walk on water,’” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“Actually, it’s her diplomatic way of saying ‘no’ in setting up those conditions. There is a brutal veto and there is a diplomatic veto,” the official said.

Another source pointed out there is nothing in the GAA that states that particular allocations would go to a particular lawmaker.

“The President will not be violating any law if she decides to withhold funds for national austerity, for example,” the official said. “Releasing pork is an act of executive grace and not a congressional entitlement.”

“You can go back to congressional records, the debates in budget, there is nothing there that says that ‘I (lawmaker) claim this is my fund’,” the source said.

Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos meanwhile cited Administrative Order 292 issued by the late President Corazon Aquino that gave the executive branch the power to “reprioritize” spending. He said the order had the force of law as it was issued when Aquino was still running a revolutionary government.

But more importantly, Relampagos said, the government is structured in such a way that it is the executive branch that has the means and the system to manage and disburse funds because of its administrative powers.

“They (lawmakers) have always wanted to water down the power of the president in handling the budget,” he told The STAR in a telephone interview.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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