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MANILA, Philippines – Congress on Monday, December 11, approved the proposed P5.768-trillion national budget for 2024.
Congress’ approval of the budget bill paves the way for its submission to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who will sign it into law.
The Senate and the House of Representatives earlier separately ratified the bicameral conference committee report reconciling the two chambers’ versions of the budget bill.
Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said that the budget ratified by Congress did not restore the confidential funds of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), both under Sara Duterte.
He also said that no lawmaker pushed for the reinstatement of Duterte’s confidential funds totaling P650 million.
Amid questions about the Vice President’s P125-million confidential funds in 2022, the House earlier stripped the DepEd and the OVP of confidential funds for 2024 and realigned these funds to augment the budgets of government agencies at the forefront of efforts to address tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
Angara said that the education sector remains the top priority of the government budget.
“The increases made to our education agencies support ongoing efforts to make educational opportunities more available and accessible, specifically for Government Assistance and Subsidies of the DepEd (Department of Education) to implement the Senior High School Voucher Program; for the Tulong Dunong Program of the Commission on Higher Education or CHED; and the Tulong Trabaho Fund, the Training for Work Scholarship Program or TWSP, and the Special Training for Employment Program or STEP,” Angara said.
Angara also said that the proposed 2024 budget is “enough to sustain the country’s growth.”
“Ito ay budget na magbibigay ng pag-asa hopefully sa ating mga kababayan kasi ‘yung panahon ngayon ay medyo uncertain ‘di ba?” Angara said. (This budget is envisioned to give hope to our countrymen because we are in rather uncertain times, are we not?)
Only Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel voted against ratifying the 2024 budget bill, noting that the unprogrammed appropriations in the final version of the 2024 national budget increased by about P450 billion from the original proposal of P281.9 billion.
“The original proposal of the President was P281.9 billion but the ending is P731.4 billion or an increase roughly of P450 billion as a result of the bicam meetings. It’s close to tripling the proposed unprogrammed appropriations by the executive. May we know what happened?” Pimentel asked Angara.
Angara replied that this was to provide fiscal space in the programmed appropriations for other items that were proposed by lawmakers from both houses of Congress.
In her manifestation on the bicameral conference committee report, ACT Teachers Representative France cited both flaws and “small victories” in the 2024 budget such as the budget cut of the Barangay Development Program of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict – from P8.64 billion to P2.16 billion – and the removal or reduction of the confidential funds of some agencies, including the OVP, Deped, and the Department of Agriculture.
Castro noted the “measly increase” in the education budget.
“Sa kabila ng classroom shortage at napakalaking class size, P100 million para sa Basic Education Facilities at P6.5 million para sa Improvement and Acquisition of School Sites lamang ang idinagdag ng Kongreso sa panukalang budget ng Executive. Puro Band-aid solutions kagaya ng AICS, MAIP, at TUPAD ang dinagdagan ng budget,” she said.
(Despite the classroom shortage and the huge class size, Congress only added P100 million for Basic Education Facilities and P6.5 million for Improvement and Acquisition of School Sites in the budget submitted by the Executive. The ones that got budget increases are mere Band-aid solutions like AICs, MAIP, and TUPAD.)
Castro also noted that details of what was ratified by the bicameral committee had yet to be presented to them.
While no confidential funds were approved, Castro flagged a special provision for contingent funds, which allows the issuance of confidential and intelligence funds to departments and agencies not concerned with security if “the President certifies as to the extreme necessity.”
The Vice President had been in the spotlight after it was revealed that the Office of the President transferred P125 million in confidential funds to her office in 2022. So far, there are three petitions before the Supreme Court, questioning the legality of this move, the latest filed by Makabayan lawmakers and activists.
Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas, for her part, said, “This national budget can’t even address one of the biggest problems in our country: food security and subsidy to rice farmers.” She pointed out that the country also allocated much of its budget to infrastructure and defense instead.
Last year, Congress approved the 2023 budget bill on December 5 and the President signed it on December 16. The Senate and the House earlier eyed the submission of the final copy of the 2024 budget to the Office of the President by December 10 so that he could sign it by mid-December, or before his trip to Japan.
Marcos will fly to Tokyo on Friday, December 15, to attend a commemorative summit for the 50th year of friendship and cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan. – Rappler.com