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2023 budget should be purged of hidden ‘pork’ – Lagman

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
2023 budget should be purged of hidden âporkâ â Lagman
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr delivers his first State of the Nation address at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on July 25, 2022.
Aaron Favila via AFP / pool

MANILA, Philippines — Taking his cue from the P544-billion purported pork barrel funds, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman yesterday called for the purging of hidden lump sums in the national budget for 2023.

“The 2023 national budget must be purged of unnecessary and excessive confidential and intelligence funds amounting to P9.29 billion which are embedded in various offices, agencies and departments,” Lagman said, setting his sights on Vice President Sara Duterte, whose Office of the Vice President (OVP) and Department of Education (DepEd) should not have intelligence funds.

“No stretch of the imagination or flexibility of logic can justify the P500 million in the OVP and another P150 million in the DepEd, both under Vice President Duterte. The OVP is not a surveillance agency and has no jurisdiction over matters of national security,” the newly elected president of the opposition Liberal Party reiterated.

“I reiterate my call to Congress to exercise judiciousness and frugality in the allocation of confidential and intelligence funds,” Lagman said.

The House approved the 2023 budget on third and final reading last week, and is poised to submit it to the Senate.

Reps. Raoul Manuel, Arlene Brosas and France Castro of party-list groups Kabataan, women’s group Gabriela and ACT Teachers, respectively, firmly believe that the P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023 is laden with pork barrel funds not just for Congress, but for President Marcos as well.

Manuel, a neophyte militant lawmaker, flagged the P149-billion allocation for the lump sum tagged as Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs in the 2023 spending budget.

“This is the largest version of pork that the Philippines has seen in recent history,” he said.

For her part, Brosas questioned the practice of disbursing funds to unprogrammed appropriations, claiming it weakens the congressional power of the purse.

During the period of interpellation on the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Brosas revealed the disbursement of funds for the P588.1-billion unprogrammed appropriations for next year will be under the discretion of the DBM.

Unfunded

The House of Representatives will make sure that unfunded programs in the budget allocation for 2023 will get funded, House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe said yesterday.

Under the proposed budget, the Cancer Assistance Fund of the Department of Health and the Special Education program of the DepEd got “zero funding.”

“There will be changes. Nothing will be zero … We will see to it that when we transmit it to the Senate, everything is alright already,” Dalipe underscored, referring to House Bill 4488 or the General Appropriations Bill for 2023 approved by Congress on third and final reading last week.

Dalipe added that small committees will be convened, with the “instruction from House Speaker Martin Romualdez to see to it” that there will be no unfunded programs next year.

Lawmakers have also sought to increase the budget for some departments and agencies: the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Labor and Employment.

CHED budget

In the Senate, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said additional funding for next year’s higher education programs should be allocated to ensure that qualified students would not be deprived of free college education and financial assistance.

“I’m with you in making sure that our students are studying and that the spirit of the free higher education law is being faithfully implemented. Unfortunately, we are depriving 226,000 students of education because the government did not allocate more funding,” Gatchalian said during the budget hearings of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and state universities and colleges (SUCs).

Gatchalian is a co-author and co-sponsor of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (Republic Act No. 10931) or Free Higher Education Act, which exempts college students enrolled in SUCs and qualified local universities and colleges from paying tuition and miscellaneous fees.

At the hearing, CHED Chairman Prospero De Vera III reported that around 379,000 qualified Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) applicants were not covered due to a lack of funding, 226,000 of whom are enrolled in private schools and run the risk of no longer being able to study.

De Vera said that over P10 billion is needed to cover these 226,000 students.

De Vera also said there are no funds allotted for new TES grantees for “Listahanan 2.0” for AY 2023-2024. Listahanan 2.0 is an information management system that identifies the poor families and where they are located. – Sheila Crisostomo, Cecille Suerte Felipe

NATIONAL BUDGET

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