Small committee to tackle realignment of confidential funds
The House of Representatives approved the proposed P5.768 trillion national budget Wednesday night by a vote of 296-3-0, but left controversial confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) intact, with a promise to later reallocate these from non-security departments to agencies on the forefront of national security efforts.
The House-approved version of the 2024 national budget is 9.5 percent more than this year’s budget of P5.267 trillion, and is equivalent to 21.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The education sector was again given the largest allocation of P924.7 billion.
The amount includes funds for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Program, textbooks, and feeding programs. The Department of Education (DepEd), which oversees the public K to 12 as well as high schools, got a 5.37 percent increase from its budget last year to P758.6 billion.
Infrastructure priorities including the North-South Commuter Railway System and Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1 resulted in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) getting an allocation for P822.2 billion. The allocation includes funds for road improvement.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) budget next year is double that of 2023, rising to P214.3 billion because of the administration’s focus on mass transport and rail systems.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) got P181.4 billion to enable it to support rice, corn, and other high-value crops production while the Department of Health (DOH) was allotted P306.1 billion.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was given a 5.2 percent increase to P209.9 billion.
The Department of National Defense (DND) budget increased by 14.16 percent to P232.2 billion mostly in reaction to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Speaker Martin Romualdez congratulated members of the chamber for the speedy passage of the 2024 General Appropriations bill (GAB).
In his speech before adjourning the session, Romualdez emphasized the House’s steadfast commitment to fulfilling its constitutional duty of overseeing the national expenditure program with the highest levels of transparency and diligence.
He said the budgeting process was marked by rigorous discussions, particularly concerning confidential and intelligence funds, which the House scrutinized to ensure accountability.
“We underscored the need for agencies to abide by the strict accounting and auditing rules governing the handling and release of such funds and emphasized the need to safeguard its efficient and responsible utilization,” Romualdez said.
Earlier, the House leadership said it would reallocate confidential and intelligence funds, originally designated for non-security departments, to bolster security efforts in the West Philippine Sea.
A significant portion of these funds will now support the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Security Council (NSC).
Additionally, the 2024 budgets for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be increased to enhance surveillance capabilities in the West Philippine Sea.
The move was announced by leaders of various political parties, including the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the Lakas-CMD; the Nacionalista Party; the PDP-Laban; the National Unity Party and the Partylist Coalition Foundation in reaction to Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea.
But Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said that because of time restraints, lawmakers were not able to discuss amendments to it, so the confidential and intelligence funds of the requesting agencies remain intact.
“However, there will be a small committee of four that will tackle the proposed amendments, it could be done there, or it could be done during the bicameral conference,” Pimentel told CNN Philippines.
Pimentel said lawmakers have also yet to discuss the total amount to be reallocated. He noted that 28 government agencies have confidential and intelligence funds under the current version of the 2024 budget.
House appropriations committee chairman Elizaldy Co has said one of those they are considering is the ₱650 million allocated to the Sara Duterte-led Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education.
Congressmen said in their joint statement that the reallocated confidential and intelligence funds will be placed under agencies tasked to ensure national security amid China’s continued aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea. They specifically mentioned the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the National Security Council, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Pimentel said other agencies may still be added to the list like the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for its anti-illegal drugs program.
Romualdez expressed confidence that every centavo in the national budget aligns with the administration’s medium-term fiscal framework, the eight-point socioeconomic agenda, and the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028, reflecting the overarching goals of economic transformation towards inclusivity and sustainability.
Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman said the government is on track to reach its development goals with the speedy passage of the 2024 budget bill in the House.
After the House and the Senate approve their respective versions of the 2024 budget, both chambers will form a bicameral conference committee to iron out differences in the two versions before the bill goes to both houses for ratification.
The ratified bill is then sent to the President, who can veto it or place conditions on certain items in the budget. The bill becomes a law when the President signs it as the General Appropriations Act.
DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban thanked the House of Representatives for approving the proposed DA budget for 2024.
In line with the directives of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to boost the country’s local agricultural production for food security and economic growth, the DA’s 2024 expenditure plan focuses on investments that lower production costs, improve the value chains, and promote consolidation and modernization, he said.
The DA will allocate P30.86 billion for the National Rice Program, P6.09 billion for the National Fisheries Program, and P5.28 billion for the National Corn Program.
The National Livestock Program, National High Value Crops Development Program, National Organic Agriculture Program, National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Program, and the Halal Food Industry Development Program will each receive P4.35 billion, P1.94 billion, P921 million, P436 million, and P19 million, respectively.
Isabela Representative and DA budget sponsor Antonio Albano said the proposed budget “is a clear articulation of the administration’s agenda for agricultural development that is the very foundation of our nation’s sustained growth in the years ahead.” (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
He added that with the budget, the DA can pursue the reduction of production costs, enhance capabilities for local production, provide essential support services from farm inputs to requisite farm machinery and infrastructure, and promote farm and fisheries modernization.
The spending plan includes an allocation of P9.8 billion for the hybrid rice seed assistance, P9.55 billion for fertilizer assistance, P2.75 billion for agri credit programs, P2.49 billion for yellow corn seeds and fertilizers, and P2.2 billion for hog repopulation and recovery.
Moreover, P1 billion will be allotted for the Quick Response Fund, P492.7 million for the Kadiwa Program, P374 million for onion cold storage, P236.6 million for aquaculture and mariculture, P230 million for legislated hatcheries, P149.31 million for durian expansion, and P30.91 million for community gardens.
The Congress also approved, on second reading, House Bill 9284, as amended, which would expand Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.
The law seeks to declare as economic sabotage large-scale smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, cartelizing, and other acts of market abuse of agri-fishery commodities and tobacco.