House OKs proposed P5.7-trillion budget, agrees to realign Duterte's confidential funds

House OKs proposed P5.7-trillion budget, agrees to realign Duterte's confidential funds
This file photo shows the House of Representatives.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives approved on final reading on Wednesday the proposed P5.7-trillion national budget for next year, with House leaders agreeing to take away the confidential funds sought by Vice President Sara Duterte's two offices.

House committee on appropriations chairperson Rep. Elizaldy Co (Ako Bicol) said the confidential funds earmarked for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education, which total P650 million, would be realigned to agencies that focus on national security and the defense of the West Philippine Sea. 

The lower chamber received 296 affirmative votes and three negative votes from the Makabayan bloc for House Bill No. 8980. 

The House was able to approve the proposed budget on second and final reading on the same day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. tagged the General Appropriations Bill as urgent.

During the voting for HB 8980, Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan Partylist) cried foul when his microphone was suddenly switched off as he was about to assert why the budget should not be an urgent measure.

“My microphone was shut. That’s disrespectful to the public,” the lawmaker said.

In explaining his negative vote, Manuel pointed out that the president’s urgent certification is “abusive” and arbitrarily used. He also said that the OP's P4.56 billion in confidential funds had been retained which was equal to P12.5 billion of confidential and intelligence funds spent per day in a single year. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women’s Party) said that she voted against the measure as only a measly portion of the proposed budget will go toward social services and solving hunger, while Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers) said that the spending plan is "no different" from that of previous years.

"We are passing this tonight without having a copy in our hands, as if we are being asked to sign a more than 5.7 trillion-peso check with our eyes closed," Castro said in Filipino.

The proposed spending plan for 2024 was turned over by the Department of Budget and Management to the House a little earlier this year ahead of the incoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on October 30. But budget debates took around two weeks longer this year compared to 2022.

The proposed budget for 2024 is 9.5% bigger than the budget for 2023. It is also the first budget to be fully prepared under the Marcos administration.

Just like last year, the House appropriations panel this year decided to terminate budget deliberations for the OVP and the Office of the President in less than an hour, citing “parliamentary courtesy” for the two highest officials in the land. 

Makabayan bloc lawmakers criticized the move as a way for the two offices, which requested hefty chunks of confidential and intelligence funds, to evade scrutiny. 

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