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This year’s General Appropriations Act (GAA) which took effect on 01 January 2024 suffers a constitutional infirmity insofar as the bicameral conference committee inserted P449.5 billion in excess of the unprogrammed appropriations of P281.9 billion recommended by the President in the national budget or the National Expenditure Program (NEP).

The President’s utter failure to veto the excess items aggravates the constitutional defect. 

Consequently, a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court is in order to cleanse the GAA of a fatal defect and give guidance to the Congress and the President in the future budget seasons.

The Constitution unequivocally provides in Section 25 (1) of Article VI that: “The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the government as specified in the budget” or the NEP.

The prohibition on the Congress from increasing the appropriations recommended by the President covers both the programmed appropriations, which have available budget sources, and the unprogrammed appropriations, which have only contingent budget sources limited to (a) release of new loan proceeds for foreign assisted projects; (b) revenue collections from new tax laws; and (c) increase in non-tax revenue collections over target.

The 2024 NEP recommended a total of P5.768 trillion for programmed appropriations and P289.1 billion for unprogrammed appropriations, the total of both cannot be breached by the Congress.

It is well settled that when the Constitution does not distinguish, we must not distinguish.

Verily, since the Constitution does not distinguish between the programmed appropriations and the unprogrammed appropriations with respect to the congressional ban, the ceiling of both cannot be exceeded by the Congress.

Through the years, the errant interpretation is that only the totality of the programmed appropriations cannot be increased by the Congress so much so that it is the unprogrammed appropriations which have been invariably increased annually to accommodate even partisan and pet projects which are subsequently funded and released during the fiscal year under the suspicious, or even spurious, claim that contingent funding has been realized. 

What is worse is the scheme of transferring funded projects to the unprogrammed appropriations in order to accommodate pet projects which are then assured of funding.

The unprogrammed appropriations have become the sanctuary of partisan and pet projects where funding and releases for implementation would even antedate programmed appropriations.