THE House of Representatives went on a congressional break on Wednesday with the final approval of the proposed P5.768-trillion General Appropriations Act and all 20 priority bills of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).
Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the approval of the 2024 national budget reflects the House’s commitment to the welfare of Filipinos and their enduring pursuit of a more prosperous and equitable nation.
“When we passed the 2024 [national budget], our goal was to give comfort to the lives of our people. I am confident that the budget we passed will not only help to improve the condition of Filipinos. This is also the key to our continuous rise towards a better future,” the Speaker said in his speech before adjourning the session.
Romualdez said the budgeting process was marked by rigorous discussions, particularly on confidential and intelligence funds, which the House scrutinized well to ensure accountability and responsible use. “We underscored the need for agencies to abide by the strict accounting and auditing rules governing the handling and release of such funds and emphasized the need to safeguard their efficient and responsible utilization,” Romualdez said.
“As a result, the House was able to assess and evaluate the nature and use of these funds, correct any mix-ups, and allay public concerns regarding this issue,” he added.
Appropriations committee chairman Elizaldy Co confirmed that the chamber will realign the confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) of certain civilian agencies, including the Office of the Vice President and Department of Education, to augment the budgets of intelligence and security forces addressing escalating threats in the West Philippine Sea.
“The country’s safety and security are of paramount importance. To protect our territorial integrity from external threats, Congress is giving top priority to agencies directly in charge of protecting the country’s safety and securing its borders,” he said.
Following the unanimous decision of all party heads in the House of Representatives, Co said they will augment funding for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica), the National Security Council (NSC), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
“As discussed, we will realign the confidential funds of various civilian agencies. Now is the time to give our intelligence community the means to perform their duties, especially in these pressing times when we’re facing serious concerns in the West Philippine Sea,” Co explained.
“The CIFs from other departments and agencies will be realigned with the NSA, Nica, PCG, and BFAR to boost the country’s monitoring and operational capabilities in protecting our territorial waters and securing the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds,” he added.
In response to media queries, Co said among those to be affected by the budget cuts are the OVP and DepEd, which were allocated a combined P650 million in confidential and intelligence funds under the 2024 National Expenditure Program.
“So far, that’s what we have identified, but we’re still looking at other sources,” he said.
The House party leaders decided on this after the Chinese Coast Guard installed a floating barrier in Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales.
The proposed 2024 national budget is 9.5 percent higher than this year’s budget of P5.267 trillion and is equivalent to 21.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The education sector receives the largest allocation at P924.7 billion, including funds for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education program, textbooks, and feeding programs. The Department of Education sees a 5.37-percent increase to P758.6 billion.
Infrastructure priorities include the North-South Commuter Railway System and Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1. The Department of Public Works and Highways gets P822.2 billion with allocations for road improvement. The Department of Transportation’s budget doubles to P214.3 billion, focusing on mass transport and rail systems.
Agriculture receives P181.4 billion, supporting rice, corn, and high-value crop production. The Department of Health gets P306.1 billion, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development sees a 5.2-percent increase to P209.9 billion. The Department of National Defense’s budget rose by 14.16 percent to P232.2 billion.
Earlier, Rep. Co also assured the public that the country’s post-pandemic recovery will continue to be the national budget’s main focus next year as it was crafted to support post-pandemic recovery and shield the economy from external headwinds and inflationary pressures.
“The key priorities of the 2023 GAA are still education, healthcare, infrastructure, social services, social welfare, and many others,” said Co.
Co also said the P5.786-trillion national expenditure program for next year will include a budget of P1.748 trillion for debt payments and other expenditures that are automatically appropriated by law.
He said the general appropriations of P4.020 trillion are 9.5 percent higher than in 2023, while the P281.9 billion earmarked as unprogrammed funds are 65 percent lower than this year’s amount.
The Philippines’s outstanding debt at the end of 2024 is projected to reach P15.841 trillion as the Marcos Jr. administration is set to borrow more money to bankroll the national government’s record-high P5.768-trillion budget for next year.
The 2024 budget, as submitted by the Department of Budget and Management, showed the expected national government’s debt stock by the end of 2024 is P1.218 trillion higher than the projected P14.623 trillion of outstanding debt by the end of this year.
The 2024 national budget will be funded through a combination of 53 percent revenue and 43 percent debt paper issuances. Of the total P2.46 trillion in borrowings planned for next year, 75 percent will be sourced from the domestic capital market to better manage the debt.
For her part, House Committee on Appropriations Senior Vice Chairperson Stella Luz Quimbo gave assurances that macroeconomic assumptions adopted in the 2024 General Appropriations Bill have sound basis.
According to Quimbo, the 2024 national budget sets aside resources for programs critical to accelerating the nation’s growth, such as investments in education, transportation, and infrastructure.
100% for Ledac list
ALSO, Romualdez reported the 100-percent approval of Ledac priority bills three months ahead of time.
Romualdez recalled that at the July 5 second full meeting of Ledac, 20 priority bills were targeted for approval by both houses of Congress by yearend.
He listed the 20 Ledac-agreed priority bills the House has approved, including two the President may sign into law soon: House Bill (HB) 7006, or Automatic Income Classification Act for Local Government Units, and HB 8278, or the Philippine Salt Industry Development Act.
The 14 others passed on third and final reading are: HB 6522, or Philippine Centers for Disease Prevention and Control Act; HB 6518, or Health Auxiliary Reinforcement Team Act; HB 6452, or Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines Act; HB 6687, or Instituting a National Citizens Service Program; HB 6558, or Real Property Valuation and Assessment Reform Act; HB 7327, or E-Governance/E-Government Act; HB 6444, or Waste Treatment Technology Act; HB 6510, or New Philippine Passport Act; HB 7325, or Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers; HB 7240, or National Government; Rightsizing Act; and HB 7393, or Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act.
Also on Ledac’s: HB 7446, or bill amending the Bank Secrecy Law; HB 8969, or Military and Other Uniformed Personnel Pension Act; and HB 9284, or Anti-Agri-fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Act of 2023.
The House also adopted Senate Bill 1846 as an amendment to HB 0004, or the Internet Transactions or E-Commerce Law.
On Wednesday, the House ratified conference committee reports on HB 6527, or the Public-Private Partnership Act, and HB 4125, or the Ease of Paying Taxes Act.