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DBM chief defends fund hike for intel, Marcos trips

Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
DBM chief defends fund hike for intel, Marcos trips
The Marcos administration has proposed a P9.2-billion outlay for confidential and intelligence funds in the P5.768-trillion national expenditure program for 2024, higher by about P120 million than the amount set aside this year.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The higher allocation in the proposed 2024 budget for intelligence and confidential funds as well as for President Marcos’ local and foreign trips would benefit the country, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said yesterday as it defended the increase amounting to more than P600 million.

The Marcos administration has proposed a P9.2-billion outlay for confidential and intelligence funds in the P5.768-trillion national expenditure program for 2024, higher by about P120 million than the amount set aside this year.

Some P4.3 billion has been earmarked for confidential funds while P4.9 billion has been allocated for intelligence funds across all agencies.

The government is also seeking a higher budget for travels for the Office of the President. Under next year’s spending plan, P1.408 billion would be set aside for  local and foreign “missions” and state visits, about 58 percent higher than the P893.87 million allocated for this year.

Speaking to reporters at Malacañang, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman said the increase in confidential and intelligence funds was due to the higher allocations for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Anti-Money Laundering Council and Presidential Security Group.

“Like the DICT, it has additional confidential funds for cyber security because we all know that we are pushing for digitalization. And when you fund digitalization, parallel to that is the cyber security investment,” she said.

Budget Assistant Secretary Mary Anne dela Vega said the outlay would fund the cyber security programs of DICT and the intelligence activities of the PSG during Marcos’ overseas travels.

Of the P9.2 billion confidential and intelligence funds, nearly half or P4.5 billion has been earmarked for the Office of the President, P1.7 billion has been set aside for the defense department, and some P500 million for the Office of the Vice President. The education department led by Vice President Sara Duterte stands to get P150 million in confidential funds.

Pangandaman stressed there would be accountability in the use of the confidential and intelligence funds, a controversial item in the national budget. The budget chief said a joint circular released in 2015 identifies the projects and programs that can be funded by the allocations and provides details on how the funds should be disbursed.

Accountability

“So, if you look at it, our finance or admin officers and disbursing officers will have accountability,” the budget chief said.

On the higher budget for Marcos’ foreign and local trips, Pangandaman said the travels include roadshows aimed at encouraging businesses to invest in the Philippines.

“When I was asked previously during the SONA (State of the Nation Address) what I thought was the accomplishment of the administration in such a short time, I think (it is) to bring us back to the map of an investment hub and opportunity for other countries,” Pangandaman said.

“Even the economic managers, if you will notice, we’ve been going out of the country to present the Philippines as an investment hub. So, I think the travel expenses, as long as it will be beneficial and there is more advantage for our country, I think it’s okay. It’s justified,” she added.

Accused by his critics of traveling too much, Marcos has had 13 official overseas trips since becoming president last year, the latest being his state visit to Malaysia last month. During his second SONA last July 24, Marcos said his foreign trips, which he called “economic missions,” have yielded an estimated total investment pledge of P3.9 trillion with a potential to generate 175,000 jobs.

Among the President’s expected foreign trips this year are the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the US.

The proposed P5.768-trillion national budget for next year is 9.5 percent higher than this year’s outlay.

P1.4 trillion for Marcos

Of the total outlay, P1.4 trillion has been allotted by President Marcos for his administration’s massive infrastructure projects – dubbed as “Build Better More” or BBM.

“For the next five years, we must do more, building on the gains that we have made – through the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. We need this not only to be effective, but to be transformative,” the Chief Executive stated in his budget message to Congress.

“Infrastructure spending will continue to be substantial, targeted between five and six percent of GDP (gross domestic product) for the entire plan period,” Marcos said. Economic managers disclosed a total of about P8 trillion would be allotted for his administration until he steps down in 2028.

Now on his second year in office, the President pointed out that “one of the keys to continuing economic growth is infrastructure development,” hence his aim to “continue and expand the Golden Age of Infrastructure of the country.”

The DBM has earmarked P801.2 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways and a separate P176.4 billion for the Department of Transportation – both of which fall within the “Public Sector Infrastructure budget.”

There are 194 “high-impact” infrastructure flagship projects approved by the National Economic and Development Authority, including public transport, power, health, IT, water resources and agriculture.

These include the North-South Commuter Railway System and the Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1 under Rail Transport Program, Aviation and Maritime Infra Programs of the DOTr and Land Transportation Program to be “complemented” by transport-related projects of DPWH.

The House leadership under Speaker Martin Romualdez aims to make the NEP a priority measure, which it hopes to finish before the congressional break in the first week of October.

Rep. Zaldy Co, chairman of the appropriations committee tasked to deliberate on budget proposals, likewise stressed that they are ready to thoroughly assess the government’s NEP for 2024.

“The committee will put its nose to the grindstone so that the House will be able to approve the budget on third reading before Congress adjourns on Sept. 30,” the senior administration lawmaker maintained.

“I have clear marching orders from the Speaker: make sure that the budget fully supports the Marcos administration’s eight-point socioeconomic agenda through sound fiscal management,” the Ako Bicol party-list congressman said.

Co heads the 54-member Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. in the House.

“This necessitates the committee checking if the projected revenues and borrowings reflected in the BESF are enough to fund the expenses, and, just as importantly, if they are funding the right projects and initiatives,” the House leader said.

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