THE Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said Thursday that the release of over P80 billion from the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) will be withheld with the department cracking down on projects that do not conform to the government’s priorities.

The DBM’s statement is the latest development in the budget “insertion” saga dating back to late 2018, amid allegations that funds were diverted during the preparation process of the last two budgets.

The 2020 Budget was signed in early January, avoiding the four-month delay that accompanied the 2019 budget, after legislators allegedly “inserted” new items in the spending plan, later declared contrary to law by Malacañang in its veto message.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte did not formally veto any items in the 2020 budget, though the government may have pulled off an informal veto after the DBM attached release guidelines for many appropriations, subjecting non-priority items to additional review.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said Wednesday that he estimated that P84 billion was taken from the “Build, Build, Build” program for use by lawmakers in their “pet projects.”

The DBM has said it is withholding the release of these funds, adding: “government funds shall be made available only for projects which are implementation-ready for the year and aligned with government priorities.”

In a briefing Thursday, the President’s Spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said that the P84 billion will have to undergo proper processes before being released.

“There is a protocol for that. They have to pass through that,” he said.

DBM added that the P84 billion did not undergo the usual budget evaluation process prior to the passage of the budget legislation, and must fulfill documentary requirements and the concurrence of various government bodies.

The funding guidelines were released on Jan. 6, the same day Mr. Duterte signed the 2020 General Appropriations Act worth P4.1 trillion. — Gillian M. Cortez