PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has “no choice but to veto” the items in the 2019 national budget identified by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III as “unconstitutional realignments,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said.

“The President has no choice but to veto the questionable items in the budget, particularly the P75-billion worth of pork-barrel funds, which were illegally inserted into the budget after both Houses ratified the bicameral conference committee report,” Mr. Drilon said in a briefing, Thursday.

Mr. Sotto on March 26 signed the P3.757-trillion national budget for the signature of the President, but had “reservations” about the post-ratification realignments made by the House of Representatives.

In his letter to President Duterte, he noted his reservation to some P95-billion realignments made after the 2019 General Appropriations Bill was ratified on Feb. 8. Of this amount, P75 billion was realigned to fund programs and projects under the Local Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

“The certification of Senate President Sotto is clearly limited only to those items which were approved in the bicameral conference committee and ratified by both Houses of Congress, in effect, and very clearly the certification of Senate President Sotto denies the legality and the approval of the realignment,” Mr. Drilon said.

Mr. Drilon cited an August 1997 decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the President can only approve a bill validly passed by Congress.

“The Senate President raised a very serious reservation because of the fact that the insertions were made in the enrolled bill after the bill was ratified by both Houses,” he said. “Therefore, the Senate President did not attest to the valid passage of P75 billion worth of insertions.”

Asked if the President will be held accountable if he decides to approve the post-ratification realignments, Mr. Drilon said “there is no liability because the power to veto is the power of the President under the Constitution.”

He said however that the use of such contested funds may be challenged in court.

“If he approves the items which were not included in the bicameral report as ratified, the release of these funds can be questioned in the courts,” he said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan