Senate, House convene bicam panel to finalize 2023 budget

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 25 2022 05:23 PM | Updated as of Nov 26 2022 10:12 AM

MANILA (UPDATED) - Top officials of the Senate and the House of Representatives will now negotiate over some P215 billion worth of realignments in the proposed P5.268 trillion national budget of the Marcos administration for fiscal year 2023.

The members of the bicameral conference committee on the disagreeing provisions of House Bill 4488 and its Senate Version convened Friday morning to authorize the Appropriations Committee Chairman AKO Bicol Rep. Elizaldy Co and Senior Vice Chair Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo and Senate Finance Committee Chair Sonny Angara to resolve the differences and report their decision to the panel.

"Although merong mga disagreeing provisions and I believe amounting to about P215 billion worth of increases in budget items, sa tingin ko naman mabilis na makakaagree ang House at saka ang Senado dahil meron tayo for the first time, inadopt natin ang medium-term fiscal framework dahil ito ang naglalaman ng 8-point socio-economic agenda ng ating pangulo. So yan ang magiging guiding posts ng House saka Senate, and in the end, ang maipapasa natin na bersyon ay siyang pinakamagandang magsusuporta dito sa ating agenda," Quimbo told the media in an interview.

While the House only made some P77.5 billion in institutional amendments or changes to the President's own budget, the Senate made over P215 billion in changes.

"Yun po yung nasa committee report ng Senado so, in short, yun yung total proposed amendments over the approved amount of Congress." Quimbo said.

"Yun na nga po yung laman ng committee report so by the constitution, ang inaamyendahan po ng Senado ay yun pong inapprove kasama po doon yung P78 billion institutional amendments ng House."

Angara confirmed the Senate's changes but he explained these may have overlaps with the institutional amendments of the House worth P77.5 billion.

GAINERS AND LOSERS IN THE SENATE VERSION

Despite the controversy over the surveillance funds in Vice President Sara Duterte's executive office and the Department of Education (DepEd), the Senate version actually gave her over P51.21 million in the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to close at P2.343 billion in the Senate version from P2.292 billion in the House version.

The Department of Education meanwhile gained P1.216 billion to close at over P678.447 billIon in the Senate version from P677.230 billion in the House version. The net change came from an increase of P1.438 billion in some items and a decrease of over P221 million in other items in the agency. The Office of the Secretary gained over over P219 million in some items and lost over P174 million in other items for a net gain of P45.915 million.

Congress as a whole gained over P1.2 billion in the Senate version to close at P27.147 billion, with over P934 million added to the Senate as an institution and over P42.45 million added to the House. 

The Office of the President's budget remained unchanged at over P8.96 billion, but the Department of Agriculture, which the President concurrently heads, lost over P1.088 billion in the Senate version from P99.722 billion in the House version to P98.633 billion in the Senate version. While the Office of the Secretary gained over P12 billion in some items, it lost over P14.7 billion in other items for a net loss of over P2.5 billion.

State Universities and Colleges as a whole gained over P5.2 billion in the Senate version to close at P99.026 billion from P93.825 billion in the House version.

The Department of Health gained over P11 billion to close at P221.79 billion in the Senate version from P210.49 billion in the House version.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) gained over P2.094 billion to close at P253.589 billion in the Senate version from P251.494 billion in the House version. The biggest gainer in the DILG was the Philippine National Police whose budget grew by over P1.32 billion to lose at P193.124 billion.

The Department of Justice's budget grew by P1.5 billion in the Senate version to over P28.37 billion from P26.833 billion in the House version. Part of the gains are over P526.66 million in the Office of the Secretary, P200 million in the Bureau of Corrections, P650 million in the National Bureau of Investigation, and P20 million in the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

The Department of National Defense shed P27.686 billion in the Senate version to close at P202.616 billion from P230.302 billion in the House version. Specifically, the Armed Forces of the Philippines suffered a P30 billion cut in the Senate version, offsetting an increase of P1.298 billion for a net decrease of P28.7 billion to close at P195.23 billion. The General Headquarters saw a drop of P29.78 billion to P14.24 billion in the Senate version from P44.028 billion in the House version.

The Department of Public Works and Highways gained over P9.168 billion in the Senate version to close at P746.525 billion from P737.357 billion in the House version.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development gained over P8.72 billion to close at P218.172 billion from P209.443 billion in the House version.

The Department of Transportation gained over P51.78 billion more to close at P174.335 billion in the Senate version from P122.555 billion in the House version. The Judiciary gained P1.94 billion to close at P53.37 billion in the Senate version from P51.426 billion in the House version.

Special Purpose Funds dropped P74.43 billion in the Senate version to P568.74 billion from P643.185 billion in the House version.

CALL FOR TRANSPARENT SPENDING

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros hopes the bicameral panel will sustain the Senate's amendments to make surveillance spending more transparent.

"Pinasalamatan ko po yung suporta ng Senate Finance Committee Chair Angara at mga kasamahan namin sa majority yung supporta sa amyenda ng Senate minority tungkol sa transparency and accountability ng mga Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF) sa pamamagitan ng pagsubmit ng lahat ng mga ahensiyang may CIF ng work plan at pagsubmit din nila ng quarterly report sa both houses of Congress. Partikular ginawa pong halimbawa yung OVP [Office of the Vice President] CIF in the amount of P120 million na inilipat, malaki bahagi noon binalik sa DepEd sa MOOE [ Maintenance and Other Operating expenses] po para sa Safe Learning Institutions ay kasabay pong hiniling ang suporta ng House contingent, so may full trust and confidence ako kay Senate Finance Committee Chair Angara na kakatawanin nila yung mga amyenda naming lahat ng mga miyembro ng Senado, and moving forward, the space remains wide open para sa further budget and finance reforms," Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros wants to limit surveillance spending only to agencies involved in national security and public safety.

"Yun po yung prinsipyong nireiterate para sa minority ni Senate Minority leader Koko Pimentel, and I think healthy principle po yun na lahat ng mga budget items na galing sa buwis ng mamamayan na hinahawakan ng gubyerno ay gawing transparent and accountable yung paggastos nito, at yung CIF in principle ay limita doon sa mga ahensiyang meron talagang mandato and therefore pangangailangan para dito, lalo na po yung may mandato sa national security, sa national defense, sa public safety," Hontiveros said.

Angara also explained that the Senate only realigned surveillance funds in some agencies to other items in the budget of the same agency.

"Yes, dahil nagsabi na ni Vice Chair Hontiveros na sana manatili yung amendment po ng Senado na nagrealign tayo ng ilang daang milyong pondo mula sa intelligence fund ng ibat ibang ahensiya na nilagay po, di naman natin tinanggalan ng pondo yung ahensiya kungdi nilagay lang po natin sa kanilang tinatawag na MOOE o yung maintenance and other operating expenses," Angara said.

Angara explained there's already money in the programmed fund for the increase in pensions for senior citizens which wasn't in the original submission of the executive because the law increasing the pensions only took effect after the budget was submitted.

"Pero meron na pong malaking pondo sa programmed fund, yung nilagay lang sa unprogrammed, yun yun kasi yung batas sa pag dagdag ng pensyon ng senior citizens, pinasa lang ng Hunyo, yun eh so hindi naipasok ng DBM [Department of Budget and Management] yun sa NEP or National Expenditure Program kasi kahit yung batas o yung amyenda sa batas ay naipasa lang ng Kongreso nung Hunyo so humahabol tayo na may pondo," he said. 

Angara explained that Friday's meeting was only preliminary.

"Dito po, pangunahing meeting ng bicameral conference po ito kaya preliminaries pa lang po yung opening statements po natin, ano gusto natin gawin, pero yung mga detalye, kailangan pagmeetingan namin ni Chairman Zaldy saka ni Vice Chair Stella po," Angara said.

Angara and Quimbo both expressed confidence that they can wrap up work on the budget soonest.

"Hopefully by next week, pero usually mahirap rin magpredict but hopefully by next week, matapos tayo," Angara said. 

Both chambers have to ratify the committee report of the bicameral panel before the bill can be sent to the Palace for the President's signature.

"Usually, yung ratification is if not the same day of signing sana next week or the following week magawa natin dahil sayang naman yung momentum maaga nagsumite yung Office of the President, maaga nagsumite yung House of Representatives, sana tuloy tuloy," Angara said.

"Usually nagiging batas ito before New Year pero this year, dahil maaga nga tayo nag umpisa ng trabaho, ang aspiration is sana before Christmas," Quimbo said.

For his part, House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez on Friday assured President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. that the budget will be ready before the end of the year.

Romualdez said in a statement that the two chambers have enough time to come up with the final version of the budget before they start their Christmas recess on December 17.

“We have sufficient time, we will finally approve the budget before yearend. It is the most important tool in accomplishing the objectives of the President’s Agenda for Prosperity and his eight-point socio-economic development plan,” Romualdez said.

“With this budget, which is the first full-year spending measure proposed by the President, we hope to sustain or even accelerate our economic growth, which should benefit all of our people,” the Speaker said.

“I am confident that the budget will be more responsive to both opportunities and challenges next year,” House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said in a statement.

The 2023 National Budget will be the first budget President Marcos will sign since becoming the country's chief executive.

The Senate Panel includes Senators Sonny Angara, Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Win Gatchalian, Bato Dela Rosa, Bong Go, Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Francis Tolentino, Mark Villar, JV Ejercito, Alan Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, and Jinggoy Estrada.

The House panel includes Reps. Elizaldy Co, Stella Quimbo, Ralph Recto, Aurelio Gonzales Jr., Mannix Dalipe, Ferdinand Alexander Marcos, Jay-Jay Suarez, Neptali Gonzales II, Joboy Aquino II, Raul Angelo Bongalon, Eleandro Jesus Madrona, Michael John Duavit, Marcelino Libanan and Edcel Lagman.