MANILA (UPDATE) - Congress on Monday approved the proposed P5.268-trillion 2023 national budget, which is waiting now for the signature of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Voting separately in their respective sessions, the House of Representatives and the Senate ratified the bicameral conference committee report on House Bill 4488 or the proposed 2023 National Budget.
The House ratified the budget just moments after House Speaker Martin Romualdez led the House of Representatives in lighting the Christmas tree on the Batasan Pambansa grounds.
Romualdez told his colleagues that there will no longer be a "For Later Release" policy in the implementation of the 2023 budget.
In the past, the FLR policy delayed the implementation of congressmen's projects.
"This will helpfully get our economy going as soon as January 1 we can download all our programs and projects for our people," Romualdez said.
With the budget ratified by both chambers, Congress will print a final copy that will be submitted to Malacanang for the President’s signature.
Marcos may sign it, or veto portions of the spending plan as the Constitution allows line-item veto for budget bills, or place items in conditional implementation.
This will be the 1st budget under Marcos Jr. since he came to power earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the Senate also ratified the bicameral conference committee report just hours after the General Appropriations Bill was approved by the members of the bicameral panel.
The 2023 GAB represents the first national budget of the Marcos Jr administration.
But what happened Monday night was a lot different from previous years, where budget ratification usually happens a week after the bicameral budget approval, to give time to the printing of the final copy of the budget book.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III opened his interpellation by questioning the availability of the actual budget book.
“Under Section 35, Paragraph 5, the consideration of such report… shall not be in order unless the report has been filed in the Secretary of the Senate and copies thereof have been distributed to the members. Have we complied with this requirement?” he asked.
“When we say, it is this one (showed two files of inch-thick documents) and there is this copy of the bicam (bicameral) amendment, Mr. President,” Senate finance committee chairman and budget sponsor Senator Sonny Angara said.
Pimentel then questioned the bicameral committee report’s removal of the minority bloc’s inserted budget provision, requiring government agencies to submit their work plan and quarterly accomplishment report.
Angara said the House of Representatives contingent moved for the removal of such provision because then President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed a similar provision in the 2022 national budget, citing national security issues.
The work plan meantime can already be checked by the Commission on Audit on its yearly audit report, according to Angara.
Pimentel insisted that Duterte’s vetoed provision should not be treated as an act that binds his successor, saying the bicameral panel should have maintained the same provision and let Marcos Jr. decide for himself.
Pimentel expressed doubts that the Senate oversight committee on confidential and intelligence funds can still effectively scrutinize the budget spending of government agencies that will be given CIFs in 2023.
The Senate minority bloc’s questioning of the budget bicameral report also touched on the reverted P150 million Department of Education Confidential Fund which, in the Senate version, was transferred to healthy learning institutions and the NTF-ELCAC’s P5 billion budget for next year, has been increased to P10 billion in the bicameral budget version.