As bicam session starts
THE bicameral conference committee on the proposed 2024 budget started meeting Thursday to hammer out a final version of the national expenditure bill, with the chairman of the House committee on appropriations urging his fellow lawmakers to adopt substantial changes introduced by the House leadership that promote transparency in public spending, safeguard national security, ensure food sufficiency, and support a population still reeling from adverse effects of the pandemic.
AKO Bicol Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said that in crafting the House version of the budget bill, lawmakers tried to strike a balance in handling debts and allocating funds to pivotal government projects and programs while being mindful of the administrative capacity of various agencies to achieve budget objectives.
The proposed budget for next year totals P5.786 trillion, including P1.748 trillion for debt payments and other expenditures that are automatically appropriated. General appropriations increased 9.5 percent to P4.02 trillion from the 2023 budget while unprogrammed funds declined by 65 percent to P281.9 billion.
The House’s budget version “underscores the need for a comprehensive strategy to enhance efficiency, transparency and accountability in program implementation,” said Co during the opening meeting of the bicameral committee.
He said in addressing those challenges, the House version was crafted to be “a more cost-efficient intervention” that is aligned “with the targets and goals for sustainable economic growth and public welfare” of the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr.
In line with that vision, the House version stripped various government offices, including the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education— both agencies led by Vice President Sara Duterte — of a total P1.23 billion in controversial confidential funds and allocated them to frontline agencies in charge of monitoring and protecting the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.
The House realigned the confidential funds and instead gave it as additional budget to the National Intelligence and Coordination Agency, P300 million; National Security Council, P100 million; Philippine Coast Guard, P200 million for ammunition and intelligence activities; and the Department of Transportation, P381.8 million as additional budget for the upgrade and expansion of the airport in Pag-Asa Island.
Earlier, some media organizations reported that some senators favor reinstating the confidential fund allocation, particularly those for the OVP and Deped.
Co, leader of the House contingent, appealed to their Senate counterparts m to “approach this endeavor with a spirit of unity and guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, and the unwavering pursuit of the common good.”
“Let us find a way to reconcile our differences, aligning them with the overarching programs of the present administration,” he added.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez also sought bipartisan support for the 2024 appropriations bill, noting the changes introduced by the House to the budget submitted by the Department of Budget and Management will address the need to increase food production, shield poor consumers from rising prices of goods, and help enhance farmers’ and fisherfolks’ income.
The House version allocated P20 billion for the rice subsidy program, P40 billion to improve irrigation and P1 billion for fisheries and post-harvest facilities
“The national expenditure program passed by the House, not only addresses food production and combatting food inflation, it is also investing more for the Filipino people and the future of this nation,” said Speaker Romualdez. “We have set aside around P125 billion for medical assistance, livelihood assistance, job creation, and scholarship programs for deserving students—the future of this nation,” he added.
The House leader appealed to the Bicameral Conference Committee to quickly craft a final version of the 2024 budget so it could be passed before Congress goes on Christmas break.
“We owe it to the Filipino people to pass a well-crafted budget on time to allow the government of President Marcos to immediately allocate those funds to help boost economic activity, draw more investments, create jobs and secure a better future for our people. We owe our constituents, the Filipino people, nothing less,” Speaker Romualdez added.