President Marcos on 2024 budget: Secret fund issue already settled

Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

TOKYO — As he prepares to sign the P5.768-trillion budget program tomorrow, President Marcos yesterday declared as a “settled issue” the controversy over the aborted inclusion of P650-million confidential funds in the 2024 budgets of the Office of Vice President Sara Duterte and the education department which she heads.

Speaking to reporters who covered his visit here, Marcos said he was “fairly comfortable” with the way the budget has turned out, even as he acknowledged that “a little work” has to be done to make sure that the items in the spending plan would be funded. 

“Yes, I think we are scheduled for Wednesday,” the President said.

“That was actually the initiative of the Vice President,” he said when asked about the confidential fund issue that observers said had soured his relationship with Duterte and her supporters.

“I’m not actually talking about the confidential funds and to not insist that they have such confidential funds. So I think as far as I’m concerned, it is a settled issue,” he pointed out.

Speaker Martin Romualdez also said the President is set to sign the budget program tomorrow.

“The budget I think...very, very closely follows what our original NEP (National Expenditure Program) was... There is still a gap, a differential between the appropriated funds and the funds we have collected thus far. There is a certain amount that we have extra and we have to collect,” he added.

Congress has realigned the combined P650-million confidential funds of the OVP and the DepEd, fueling rumors that there is a rift between Duterte and some allies of Marcos.

Duterte, who ran alongside Marcos in the Uniteam ticket during the 2022 elections, has withdrawn her request for the funds. The secret funds were instead allocated to agencies dealing with security threats in the South China Sea.

While the realignment increased the funding for efforts to secure the Philippines’ maritime interests, Marcos admitted that the Philippines’ defense spending remains incomparable with that of China, which is claiming practically the entire strategic waterway.

“Even if we go up to the desired level of spending on defense of up to two percent of GDP (gross domestic product), we will still be very not comparative in terms of actual military force to the Chinese. That is obvious to everyone,” Marcos, also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said.

“So that’s not the only side to the problem. We have to continue to ally ourselves with as many countries around the world, especially in Asia and the Indo-Pacific area (and) around the world... being able to speak with a unified voice is essential and that will only come with strong coalitions among different countries,” he added.  

Romualdez also told Palace reporters covering the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo that the budget program is ready for signing, possibly tomorrow.

“It’s ready for signing. In fact, he could have signed it before he left (for Tokyo),” Rumualdez said, referring to the bicameral conference committee-approved General Appropriations Act of 2024 embodying the P5.768-trillion national budget for next year.

“I think there are still some printings that have to be done,” the House leader said.

The administration stalwart, a first cousin of Marcos, also expressed belief – when asked by reporters – that no provisions in the new budget program would be altered or vetoed.

“He’s not stating any. We’re just complying with the parameters (on the budget) and we’re working closely with the Office of the President,” he said.

Romualdez also confirmed that, as agreed upon by both houses of Congress, no confidential and intelligence funds had been allocated to the Office of Vice President and the DepEd.

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