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MANILA, Philippines – The microphone of the neophyte lawmaker from party-list group Kabataan was turned off when he tried to question the speedy passage of the proposed 2024 budget on Wednesday night, September 27.
The House was about to proceed to nominal voting on House Bill No. 8980 (also known as the General Appropriations bill) which was up for third and final reading, when Representative Raoul Manuel attempted to make his manifestation.
He wanted to question President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s move to certify as urgent the spending plan, when there was no public calamity or emergency that warranted the move – two criteria stated in the Constitution.
A certification allows Congress to pass the bill on third reading right after it was approved on second reading, bypassing a constitutional requirement for a measure to undergo three readings on three separate days.
Less than a minute into the speech, Deputy Majority Leader Marlyn Primicias-Agabas cut Manuel off, and the two started talking over each other.
“The chairman rules that the point of the gentleman, Representative Manuel, is out of order,” Primicias-Agabas said.
“I’m not yet finished,” Manuel said, before his microphone was turned off.
The nominal voting proceeded, and when it was Manuel’s time to cast his vote, he again went to the podium to decry the treatment given him.
“The tyranny of the majority has been displayed. With that, I vote no and I would like to explain my vote later. My mic was even shut. That’s disrespectful to the public,” he said.
“I move to strike out that unparliamentary statement of Congressman Raoul,” Abang Lingkod Representative Stephen Paduano interjected.
After the bill passed on third reading, Manuel was given the chance to explain his vote, but he used the first part of his speech to continue the point of order he raised earlier.
“The basis to say the 2024 budget is urgent is weak. Will the budget be used immediately even if we pass it here [now]?” he asked.
The Senate will only start plenary discussions on the 2024 spending plan in November.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman said he sympathizes with Manuel’s position, which questioned the President’s move, although he noted that the Supreme Court already ruled that the reason for the certification by the President is his sole discretion.
HB 8980 was approved by 296 lawmakers on Wednesday night, with only Manuel and fellow Makabayan bloc lawmakers France Castro and Arlene Brosas voting in the negative.
They said the proposed P5.768-trillion budget request does not address head-on the urgent needs of the Filipino public, while allotting billions for confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) to “lucky” government agencies.
Lagman, who voted yes with reservations to the bill, called on the House to remove secret funds from agencies whose principal mandates have no affinity with CIFs, limit the amount to agencies entitled to them, and reallocate them to social services.
Speaker Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, claimed that the deliberations and negotiations were extensive.
It took the House only seven plenary sessions to pass the budget.
“The House of Representatives has to shepherd the national expenditure program no matter the rigors and challenges along the way. These include difficult discussions on the confidential and intelligence funds,” he said on the final working day before the chamber went on a one-month break.
“We underscored the need for agencies to abide by the strict accounting and auditing rules governing the handling and release of such funds,” he added. “As a result, the House was able to assess and evaluate the nature and use of these funds, and correct any misapprehensions and allay public concerns regarding this issue.”
There is a P10.1-billion allocation for confidential and intelligence funds in the proposed 2024 budget, scattered across government agencies.
House leaders have committed to strip Vice President Sara Duterte’s offices of confidential funds and realign them to agencies at the forefront of initiatives to address the rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea.