MANILA - House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said Thursday that the bicameral conference committee acted like a “3rd Congress” when it reversed the amendments by the House and the Senate in the proposed 2023 National Budget before sending it to the President for signature.
“Nakakadismaya iyong resulta ng bicam budget dahil na-disregard ng both houses of Congress iyong na-approve na budget ng House of Representatives at Senate. Tila ba nagkaroon ng 3rd Congress itong bicam na ginawa nila na pag-disregard,“ Castro said in the regular Makabayan Bloc press conference.
Castro and her allies believe the budget remains riddled with pork barrel funds.
“Pangalawa, talagang nanaig ang pork. Ibinalik ang badyet para sa Department of Education na confidential fund na P150 million at P500 million sa Office of the Vice President. So basically, may P650 million ang Vice President at her disposal na tinuturing natin ito na pork,“ Castro said.
She added that the restoration of the budgets of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and Department of Education confidential funds came at the expense of financial aid that could have been granted by other agencies.
“Pangatlo, ibinalik rin ang red-tagger budget ng NTF-ELCAC na dapat talaga ay buwagin na ito. Kaya kung titignan natin ang budget, binawasan ang mga budget para doon sa mga social services at sa mga dapat paglaanan ng budget. Kaya 'pag tinignan natin iyan, halimbawa iyong DAR may slash ng P4.5 billion; iyong Commission on Higher Education, P4.1 billion; iyong Health, nang P871 million; Agriculture, by P857 million, para mai-restore lang ang budget para doon sa confidential funds at NTF-ELCAC,“ Castro said.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas made similar observations.
“The government acted like restoring the NTF-ELCAC budget will eradicate poverty, when its corruption-prone budget was used for red-tagging and vilification while the poor were begging for a budget for financial aid,“ Brosas said.
“Kung gugustuhin ng pamahalaan, pwede itong maglaan ng sapat na pondo para sa ayuda o pampagawa ng mga pampublikong ospital o school facilities para ma-address ang classroom backlog. But it instead restored its budget for red-tagging and the P150 million confidential and intelligence fund for DepEd that we can't even account,” she added.
Brosas said they still want the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and for its funds to be realigned to direct financial aid and much-needed basic social services.
“Kasi yun naman po talaga ang panawagan natin for the 2023 budget," she said.
Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel reiterated his earlier observation about how the bicameral panel restored the controversial funds on the sly.
“Parang magnanakaw sa gabi ang biglang pagbaliktad ng Bicameral Conference Committee ng Kongreso sa naunang mga pasya na bunga ng talakayan sa House of Representatives para kaltasan ng budget ang Barangay Development Fund ng NTF-ELCAC at Confidential Funds ng DepEd. Tila sinayang sa pasyang ito ang halos isang buwan na pagtatalakay kung pagdating sa dulo ay babalewalain ang mga argumento na hinapag natin bilang representante ng kabataan,“ Manuel said.
“Patuloy tayong naninindigan na ang mga allotments na ito ay mapupunta lang sa pahamak na red-tagging, surveillance at iba pang mga programa na lalong gigipit sa kalayaan ng mamamayang Pilipino na magsalita at magpuna sa kasalukuyang administrasyon habang nagsisilbi rin itong balon para sa korapsyon,“ he added.
Manuel accused the administration of being out of touch.
“Sobrang out of touch ng pagpapalobo ng pork ng administrasyong Marcos Jr. Sa midnight allocations na ito, pinili ng liderato ng Kongreso na busugin ang bulsa ng mga nasa kapangyarihan kaysa ang kumakalam na sikmura ng mamamayan. Alalahanin natin na nasa gitna tayo ng 14-year high inflation rate na 8% na naasahang tataas pa ito sa Pasko at sa parating na tag-init, kasabay ng taas-singil sa kuryente at iba pang bayarin. May kakayahan ang administrasyon na mag-re-channel ng pondo kung nanaisin nito. Dapat magdalawang-isip ang administrasyon at ilipat ang pondo na ito muli pabalik sa mga kongkretong program na maghahatid ng direktang serbisyo sa mamamayan lalo na sa edukasyon at kabuhayan,“ he said.
Speaker Martin Romualdez told media on Wednesday that President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. will sign the budget into law after returning from his forthcoming trip to Belgium.
"As you know, we have already ratified the bicameral report for the national budget which will be ready for signing, for signature of the President, perhaps, after his return from the trip to Brussels. So that is the most important piece of legislation that we acted on with dispatch. With your support, we have done our job and we hope that this will really add to the success for our president's agenda for prosperity," Romualdez said in his Christmas message during a luncheon he hosted for media at Batasan Pambansa.
Congress finalized the 2023 National Budget last Monday by ratifying the bicameral conference committee report that reconciled the disagreeing provisions of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The bicameral panel approved some P395 billion in realignments, way higher than the P77.5 billion in institutional amendments made by the House and P225 billion in changes made by the Senate in their respective versions of the National Expenditure Program submitted by the President.
The budget bill is now being printed for final signature by the president, a process that takes weeks because of the volume of documents that constitute the budget bill and the number of copies that have to be made.