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MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III expressed “deep concern” over the Marcos administration’s multibillion-peso confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in its proposed 2024 national government budget.
In a statement on Saturday, August 5, Pimentel questioned the government’s understanding of the plight and commitment to serve ordinary Filipinos in allocating an increase in confidential and intelligence funds in the proposed P5.768-trillion budget for 2024.
“The allocation of P9.2 billion to confidential and intelligence funds while our fellow Filipinos in calamity-stricken areas suffer raises serious questions about the government’s understanding of the real needs and challenges faced by our country,” Pimentel said.
Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman told reporters the proposed CIF for next year was P9.2 billion, although when the documents were uploaded on the DBM website, the proposed CIF was revealed to be P10.14 billion.
The budget department turned over the proposed National Expenditure Program, which would become the basis of the 2024 General Appropriations Act, to the House of Representatives on August 2.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s office may receive nearly half or at P4.56 billion of the proposed CIF. Meanwhile, Vice President Sara Duterte requested P500 million for the Office of the Vice President, and P150 million for the Department of Education (DepEd), of which she is secretary.
Marcos also wants P50 million in confidential funds for the Department of Agriculture, which he leads in a concurrent capacity . The DA does not have confidential funds for 2023.
“This budgetary decision is a huge mistake,” Pimentel said, adding that it affirmed what he said in a reaction speech to the President’s second State of the Nation Address – that the administration failed to understand Filipinos’ struggles at the household level.
“It shows the lack of empathy and understanding of the real needs of ordinary Filipinos,” he added.
Pimentel also emphasized how “every peso counts” as the country still reeled from recent typhoons and the possible impact of El Niño, which may cause some parts of the country to experience drought. For Typhoon Egay alone, damage and losses in the country’s agriculture and fisheries sector reached nearly P5 billion, numbers from the DA showed.
The Marcos government nonetheless has hundreds of billions proposed for disaster response and climate change adaptation.
The Department of Public Works and Highways, for instance, asked for P215.643 billion for its Flood Management Program, while the government’s Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation programs under Climate Change Expenditures Tagging reached a whopping P543.45 billion.
‘Supersized’ feeding programs
Other lawmakers have begun reacting to the proposed 2024 budget as well. Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto pointed to the huge increase in child feeding programs, including the DepEd’s school feeding program which may double from this year’s P5.68 billion to P11.71 billion in 2024.
Meanwhile, if the Department of Social Welfare and Development is granted its proposed P4.1 billion for its supplementary feeding program, then the Marcos administration’s total budget for national child feeding programs will reach P15.8 billion – a P5-billion jump from 2023.
The DepEd’s program is meant for undernourished kindergarten to grade 6 students from indigent families, and are in danger of dropping out. Meanwhile, the DSWD’s program is for undernourished children in day care and other child development centers.
According to Recto, the increase is unprecedented.
“Never has the budget for child feeding been supersized to this big. On this, the government has put its money where its mouth is,” said the Batangas 6th District Representative.
Recto estimated that the P15.8 billion may allow the two agencies to serve about 857 million meals to children.
While the costing may change from the impacts of inflation, Recto said that that this would “not change the fact that the two agencies will have in their hands a big catering operation next year.”
Recto suggested that the two departments could support local farmers and food producers by purchasing their products for the feeding programs.
A 2021 World Bank report found that the Philippines ranked fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest prevalence of stunting. It is also among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest number of stunted children. – Rappler.com