MANILA, Philippines – The House appropriations committee swiftly approved the proposed 2024 budget of the Office of the President (OP) on Tuesday, September 5, citing “parliamentary courtesy,” despite objections from the chamber’s progressive bloc.
The difference, however, is that Makabayan lawmakers were allowed to make manifestations, unlike during the budget deliberations for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) last week.
“Courtesy? Respect? Hindi ba’t mas mataas ang utang na courtesy at respeto ng mga ahensya ng gubyerno sa mamamayan lalo na ang Office of the President? Utang na magpaliwanag kung paano ginastos at kung paano gagastusin ang bawat sentimong pinagkakatiwala sa kanila,” House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers said.
(Isn’t the debt of courtesy and respect higher for government agencies like the Office of the President? Don’t they owe us an explanation on how they spend the budget allotted to them?)
“The P4.5 billion in confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) is part of the P1-trillion funding that the President will control next year,” House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas of Gabriela added. “It is time to abolish CIF and the presidential pork, and re-channel these funds to health care, education, and social services.”
For 2024, President Marcos’ office is seeking P10.7 billion, including automatic appropriations.
Out of this amount, P1.408 billion would go to local and foreign missions and state visits, a 58% increase from the current year.
Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, representing OP, justified this request.
“The lifting of stringent health restrictions provides an opportunity for the President to conduct the affairs of the state outside the physical confines of his office. As all have noticed, more meetings are being conducted by the President, more presidential engagements are being held, and the Cabinet is convened and meets more often,” Bersamin told lawmakers.
“The budget adjustment we seek likewise accommodates the logistical requirements of honoring invitations from foreign leaders to visit their countries and the making of diplomatic initiatives which will yield job-creating investments that will hasten our post-pandemic economic recovery,” he added.
Marcos is in Jakarta, Indonesia, joining leaders from Southeast Asia and their dialogue partners for the 43rd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.
Tuesday’s hearing, while fast, was not exactly smooth-sailing, as Makabayan lawmakers tried to block the swift approval of the budget at the committee level.
Abra Representative Ching Bernos brought up the motion to terminate the budget briefing for the OP at 9:55 am, only nine minutes after House appropriations vice chairperson Stella Quimbo declared a quorum.
But Castro immediately said, “I object,” prompting a statement of support from Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan.
“The Minority wishes to afford the same courtesy to the Office of the President. However, in the spirit of democracy, three members of the Minority would like to raise questions, which it’s up to the Office of the President to answer,” Libanan said. “Before we decide on the motion, please allow the Minority to make their manifestations.”
“We will allow two-minute manifestations from each of the Minority members,” Quimbo replied.
House Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab, however, insisted that the committee first terminate the budget briefing before it allows Makabayan to make their manifestations.
Quimbo finally granted the motion after a brief suspension of the proceeding, following the withdrawal of Castro’s objection, but Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel still tried to oppose the termination of the deliberations.
“I don’t believe that it is proper for us to terminate the deliberations without the opportunity for the manifestations to be part of House records,” he said.
“The hearing has not been suspended, and therefore, the manifestation of the minority members will be part of the records,” Quimbo explained.
Last year, the OP also breezed through the committee-level budget deliberations due to parliamentary courtesy.
Inter-parliamentary courtesy is a time-honored tradition between the two chambers of Congress to not meddle into each other’s affairs.
On August 30, Vice President Sara Duterte was extended the same privilege during the budget deliberations of the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education.
But at the time, Makabayan lawmakers were not allowed to ask questions or make manifestations during the hearing proper. – Rappler.com