MANILA — Some P9.2 billion in confidential and intelligence funds remain intact in next year's budget after the House of Representatives realigned P77.5 billion to social services, a senior member of the appropriations committee said.
The panel's senior vice-chair, Marikina Second District Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, explained that to fund realignments, the House took away funds from certain railway programs of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) which were meant to pay taxes.
“Taxes yun eh, a number of these, if I'm not mistaken, tax-exempt yun so di talaga naglalaan ng appropriation cover for that. 'Yun ang mga inuna namin, yung mga obvious na di dapat lagyan ng appropriation cover given that limited talaga yung fiscal space natin, so inuna natin yun. Walang pinanggalingan sa confidential and intelligence funds,” Quimbo said.
(Those are taxes, if I'm not mistaken, a number of these are tax-exempt so we should not allocation appropriation cover for that. So these came first, those which obviously should not get appropriation cover given that our fiscal space is really limited. Nothing came from confidential and intelligence funds.)
“For the itong first set of amendments there are a few, 2 lump sums na kinuhaan ng pondo din, but the bulk is really the P50 billion from the DOTr,” she added.
(For the first set of amendments there are a few, 2 lump sums where funds were sourced, but the bulk is really the P50 billion from the DOTr.)
SPEAKER: 'REFINEMENTS' MADE 'ACROSS THE BOARD'
But responding to a question on whether confidential and intelligence funds were decreased to give additional budget to other items, House Speaker Martin Romualdez said on Thursday, "There were refinements across the board."
Pressed for whose surveillance budget was realigned, Romualdez did not go into specifics.
"Without getting into great detail because it’s not yet final, as you know we have to go through the bicam, we administered all these refinements across the board," he told reporters.
"And we’re just very happy that we got full support of the House in this matter and it’s really to address the more urgent needs, you know, of people who are most deserving and underserved, so to speak. So some projects that may not necessarily need the entire planned expenditures at the get go, so we realigned some of those funds to the more urgent needs," he added.
Quimbo said the rest of the realignments came from cuts from other agencies and some lump sums.
Around P5 billion from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was among those realigned as a funding source, she said.
While Quimbo could not state the total lump sums in the budget, she explained that they are really difficult to pre-identify or itemize at the start of the budget implementation, such as those meant for aid.
PROGRAMS WITH ZERO BUDGET
Despite the realignments, Quimbo conceded that not all items that got zero allocation in the 2023 National Expenditure Program were funded, such as IBC 13, which faces a possible shutdown in the New Year due to a lack of financial support from the government.
Quimbo said this was not the end of the line for these programs since lawmakers could still propose more amendments in the bicameral conference committee after the Senate approves its version.
Before approving the proposed 2023 national budget last week, the House accepted no amendments from the House Appropriations Committee.
Instead, it created a "small committee" composed of Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe, Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan, Appropriations Committee Chair Elizaldy Co, and Quimbo to accept and decide on amendments that would be submitted by individual members.
As the legislature is barred by law from increasing the budget ceiling of P5.268 trillion, the House had to source the realignments from other items in the National Expenditure Program.
A press release from the Speaker’s Office reported that the House Appropriations Committee sourced the realignments from items that likely won’t be utilized in 2023 based on historical performance or specific circumstances, and from the deduction in programs and projects "whose budget may be allocated in succeeding fiscal years.”
These included the P50 billion deducted from the DOTr's proposed budget for the Metro Manila Subway Project and North-South Railway Commuter for 2023.
Meanwhile, Quimbo admitted that despite its low budget use, the Department of Information and Communication Technology got more funds, or another P1.5 billion, to complete the National Broadband Program project.
Quimbo said they prioritized social services in the reallocation of funds as these are really urgent and identified during the deliberations at the House.
In a press release Wednesday, House Speaker Martin Romualdez announced that the House of Representatives realigned P77.5B in its version of the 2023 General Appropriations Bill or House Bill 4488.
Romualdez's statement listed the following amendments:
• P20.25 billion for various programs of the Department of Health such as: Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients (P13 billion); allowances for healthcare and non-healthcare workers and frontliners (P5 billion); additional funding for the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute and Philippine Children’s Medical Center Health (P500 million each); 10 dialysis assistance centers throughout the Philippines (P270 million or P27 million each); Cancer Assistance Program (P250 million);
• P500 million for UP-PGH;
• P10 billion for the Department of Education’s school building/classroom construction (P10 billion) and special education programs (P581 million);
• P10 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways to construct water systems in underserved upland barangays;
• P12.5 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (P5 billion); P5 billion to upgrade senior citizens' pensions through the National Commission of Senior Citizens; and Sustainable Livelihood Program (P2.5-billion);
• P5.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs to address the rising cost of fuel like the fuel subsidy program, Libreng Sakay and bike lane construction;
• P5 billion for the training and scholarship programs of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority;
• P5 billion for the Commission on Higher Education’s Tulong Dunong Program;
• P5 billion for the livelihood and emergency employment programs of the Department of Labor and Employment;
• P1.5 billion for the national broadband project of the Department of Information and Communications Technology;
• P500 million for the Commission on Elections' new building;
• P300 million for the Philippine National Police to train law enforcement officers to be conducted by the Department of Justice and National Prosecution Service;
• P250 million for the Department of Trade and Industry to assist the creative industry pursuant to Republic Act 11904;
• P150 million for the Energy Regulatory Commission;
• P147 million for the Office of the Solicitor General;
• P50 million for the National Electrification Administration’s barangay and sitio electrification program