MANILA - The Senate's version of the proposed 2023 budget that allotted P615.530 million for IBC-13 was slashed to P187.899 million in the bicameral conference committee report that was approved by the two chambers of Congress.
The initial allocation intended to cover the salary of around 300 IBC-13 employees as well as the yet-to-be-paid benefits of its 146 retirees.
Of that amount, P431.631 million was supposed to be allotted to the employees who have retired, including those who will follow suit in 2023.
Voting separately in their respective sessions, the House of Representatives and the Senate on Monday ratified the bicameral conference committee report on House Bill 4488 or the proposed 2023 National Budget of P5.268 trillion.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III raised the issue of IBC 13’s slashed budget during the Senate's deliberation on the bicam panel report as presented by Sen. Sonny Angara.
“So, we moved it from the Senate version in Programmed New Appropriations, to Unprogrammed. And that’s, if I remember correctly, that’s the amount requested by those who retired long time ago from IBC… Ginawa pa po nating mas contingent ngayon ang pagtanggap po nila ng retirement benefits. While in the Senate version, if the distinction is really valid, it was more or less sure,” Pimentel said.
Unprogrammed items can only be funded when there are enough government funds that can be sourced either from revenue collection or loans.
Angara said the government is looking at funding the Unprogrammed projects next year.
“Our (Lower) House counterparts and some of our secretaries in the Cabinet are cautiously optimistic that it will be funded, Your Honor,” Angara said.
“Bakit po, Mr. Chairman, na sa ang dami-daming bagay na pwede nating ilipat, eto po ang ating napili sa isa mga ilipat?” Pimentel asked.
“We were looking for space for some of the amendments of our colleagues. As you said, there’s so many moving parts. Sometimes, it’s difficult to prioritize, distinguish to say which one is more important than the other. They’re equally important,” Angara said.
“I think, given the 4 percent increase in the fiscal space between 2022 and 2023, there was really a lot of room for new initiatives. And somehow, the committee had to be creative so to speak in trying to find funding for some of these initiatives,” he added.
Angara admitted having difficulty in accommodating the forwarded amendments of their colleagues.
Despite the budget reduction, Angara still expressed optimism that somehow, the needed funds for IBC retirees will eventually come.
“Perhaps, there is a good chance that these initiatives will be funded in the coming year,” he said.
Meantime, the fate of COVID-19 vaccine procurement and other programs to address emerging disease also hangs, as these were also placed under the “Unprogrammed Funds” in the proposed national budget.
Angara said the P3.5 billion needed for vaccines and emerging diseases fall under the Unprogrammed Funds.
"There’s nothing in the Programmed (Funds) for COVID-19 vaccine procurement?” Pimentel asked.
“Wala po, wala po, Your Honor,” Angara said.
Angara, however, quickly allayed fears that the government will not be procuring the vaccine.
In the previous budget, almost half of the COVID-19 vaccine program was also placed in the Unprogrammed Funds but was later on funded by the government, Angara said.
“The funds for COVID-19 were released through loans,” Pimentel said.
“Yes, you’re correct,” Angara said.
Pimentel pointed out that next year’s budget includes more or less P219 billion Unprogrammed Funds and Programmed new appropriations worth P5.8 trillion, for a total of over P6 trillion.
“Are we now having the very first P6 trillion budget of the Republic of the Philippines?” Pimentel asked.
“Not quite yet. We might have to wait till next year.. because when we talk about the budget, we exclude usually the Unprogrammed… We do not include it because, No. 1, it is not accompanied by a certification by the National Treasurer on the availability of funds, and it is not assured of funding,” Angara explained.
Pimentel said that still, both Programmed and Unprogrammed Funds will either be supported by revenues, loans or foreign funding.
“So, why are we making distinctions and then at the same time during the Plenary Session, in November 2022, talking about the Unprogrammed in November 2022, there was a statement that we already released 80 percent of the Unprogrammed appropriations for 2022. So, the Unprogrammed is just basically like Programmed,” he said.
“If 2022 is our basis, then certainly, in that sense, that it is very well funded. As you’ve mentioned, 80 percent. But I don’t think that’s been the case in past years. It’s hard to carve a general rule in varied empirical evidence,” Angara said.