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Congress ratifies 2023 budget

Set to transmit P5.268-trillion national spending plan for PBBM’s signature

Congress on Monday ratified the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023 after it was approved by the bicameral conference committee in the morning.

The bicam panel also restored the P150 million in confidential funds of the Department of Education (DepEd), which was cut by P120 million in the Senate version of next year’s national capital outlay.

The copy of the budget bill will be transmitted to Malacañang for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s signature.

Speaker Martin G. Romualdez, who presided over the Monday session at the House of Representatives, announced the bicam report as duly ratified after holding a voice vote. The affirmative votes won overwhelmingly.

The Senate ratified the same document at past 7:30 p.m. during its own session in plenary, after Deputy Majority Leader Joel Villanueva moved to ratify next year’s capital outlay.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri announced the budget’s ratification, which was opposed by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Assistant Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros.

Senate finance panel chairperson Juan Edgardo Angara made the announcement after the closing of the bicameral meeting held at the Manila Golf Club in Makati Monday morning.

“We have returned the money slashed by the Senate from some (government) agencies, but not those from other agencies,” he said, specifically citing the P150 million confidential fund of the DepEd.

In the Senate, Hontiveros had proposed cutting the agency’s confidential funds and transferring it to the healthy learning institution program, a move her colleagues approved.

But she said: “Today, the 19th Congress missed an opportunity to show its independence. We failed to demonstrate that we do hold the power of the purse.”

But Angara said the DepEd said they needed the budget and “we respected the wishes of the agency,” which is headed by Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Pimentel confronted Angara on the bicam increasing by P219 million the unprogrammed appropriations in the national budget and expressed dismay over the development.

“That is disappointing. I will still need to get more details about the bicam report,” he said.

Another Senate act – reducing the budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)—was also undone in the bicameral session, with the agency’s budget being restored to the original amount.

Furthermore, Angara said the bicam-approved proposed 2023 budget realigned funding to increase allocations for State Universities and Colleges, DepEd, infrastructure projects including bike lanes and specialty hospitals across the country, Libreng Sakay program, fuel subsidy, emergency employment, Assistance to Individuals in Crisis, Quick Response Fund, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Supreme Court.

However, he said that allocations for foreign-assisted projects have been delegated to the unprogrammed fund which will only be funded once the foreign funding or loans materialize.

“While the 2023 budget is only 4 percent higher than the 2022 budget, that 4 percent increase is what we call productive spending because we will be spending it for education, infrastructure which would boost our economy and create jobs for our people,” Angara said.

Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, who led the House contingent in the bicam, welcomed the approval of the budget. The enrolled copy of the measure, signed by House and Senate officials, will then be sent to Malacañang for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s signature.

House leaders had earlier said that it’s possible for the budget bill to be signed before Christmas.

Speaker Romualdez and Rep. Co, chair of the House appropriations committee, had earlier vowed to seek augmentations on the proposed allocations of agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Education (DepEd), and Department of Transportation (DOTr) in a bid to improve the delivery of social services.

“We put up more funds… we added huge allocations… in the bicam…for social services, including government hospitals,” Co said.

“For the education (sector), not only the government schools, but the private schools can also be funded… it’s a very good budget,” he said.The budget also allocates funding for the Libreng Sakay program, Co said, as well as support for specialty hospitals.

Romualdez expressed confidence that the approval by a bicameral conference committee of the proposed P5.268-trillion 2023 national budget would keep the country on the growth path.

The Speaker said he has no doubt that the committee’s version of the budget supports the Agenda for Prosperity and eight-point socioeconomic program of the President.

“With this budget, which is the first full-year spending plan proposed by the President, we hope to hasten our economic growth, which should benefit our people,” Romualdez said as he congratulated the House and Senate leaders for approving Monday the bicam report on the national budget.

Prior to the ratification, House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe manifested in plenary session that the lower chamber received the bicam report on the proposed national budget contained in House Bill 4488.

“In accordance with our rules, I move that we ratify the said bicameral conference committee report,” Dalipe said.

But Hontiveros was saddened with the bicam’s restoration of the confidential and intelligence funds.

She scored the poor protection given to public funds by granting in full all the requests for confidential and intelligence fund under the Marcos-Duterte administration.

“And worst, the legislature agreed to remove provisions that require congressional reporting of the utilization plan and disbursement of the confidential and intelligence fund,” she said.

“In the absence of such provisions, in spite of the Select Oversight Committee on Confidential and Intelligence Funds, how can we be expected to exercise checks and balances?” Hontiveros said.


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