THE Senate approved on third and final reading its version of the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that contains the P5.268-trillion national budget for next year.

With 21 affirmative votes, no negative votes and no abstention, the 2023 General Appropriations Bill, which was earlier certified as urgent by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., was approved.

Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Senator Sonny Angara said the 2023 GAB will cushion the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the increasing prices of basic commodities, support the administration’s goal in ensuring food security, revive education and prepare the country for the impacts of climate change, among other things.

Despite the continuous decline in Covid-19 cases in the country, Angara said the programs are for the continuous strengthening of the country’s health system, such as the establishment of specialty hospitals in different regions in the country and boosting support to the Health Facilities Enhancement Program of the Department of Health.

“Sa ilalim ng 2023 budget ay magkakaroon pa din ng ayuda para sa ating mga kababayan pero hindi na ito tulad ng nakaraang ayuda kung saan ay halos lahat ng tao ay nabigyan ng pera. Ngayon pili na sektor na ang bibigyan ng tulong at naka base ito sa bigat ng pangangailangan at naging epekto ng pandemya sa kanila,” Angara said.

(Under the 2023 budget, there will still be aid for our countrymen, but it will not be like the previous aid where almost everyone was given money. Now, the aid will be given to select sectors and it is based on the severity of the need and the impact of the pandemic on them.)

He said the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation will also receive a significant amount to support its Benefit Package Improvement under the Universal Health Care Law.

“Ang pondong ito ay pwedeng gamitin sa pag expand o paglaki ng coverage para sa dialysis, mental health outpatient services, z-benefit packages, severe acute malnutrition at iba pang mga outpatient benefits tulad ng libreng konsulta, libreng lab tests at diagnostic services, gamot at mga emergency medical services,” the lawmaker said.

(This fund can be used to expand or increase coverage for dialysis, mental health outpatient services, z-benefit packages, severe acute malnutrition and other outpatient benefits such as free consultations, free lab tests and diagnostic services, medicine and emergency medical services.)

Under the approved 2023 GAB of the Senate, affected sectors will continue to receive vouchers to help them cope with the rising fuel prices, which are greatly affected by the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

Funding was also provided for the government’s Libreng Sakay (Free Ride) Program that has benefited a lot of commuters who have been dealing with the rising price of fuel and its corresponding impacts on other goods and services.

“Marami na ang nakinabang sa Libreng Sakay at sa panahon na ito ay talagang kahit anong klaseng tulong na maibibigay para maibsan ang hirap na dala ng pagtaas ng presyo ay dapat lang ipagpatuloy,” Angara said.

(Many have already benefited from the Libreng Sakay and in this day and age, any kind of assistance that can be given to alleviate the hardship brought by price hikes should be continued.)

It will also fund the following programs to help especially the underprivileged students continue their education:

*Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Program;

*Senior High School Voucher Program;

*Education Service Contracting for Junior High School;

*Student Financial Assistance Programs;

*Joint Delivery Voucher for Senior High School Technical-Vocational-Livelihood Track; and

*Private Education Student Financial Assistance.

Angara said additional funds were also allocated for the additional cash assistance for poor senior citizens in accordance with the Republic Act 11916, which mandates the doubling of the monthly pension of elder beneficiaries.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) will also get around P10-billion additional funds for calamity response, including for the Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Funds.

The Senate version of the 2023 GAB also contains P820.27 billion, representing the National Tax Allotment that will be distributed among the local government units amid efforts to decentralize and devolve several functions of the national government.

The bicameral conference committee meetings will commence on Friday, where the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives will work to come up with a reconciled version of the General Appropriations Bills. (SunStar Philippines)