THE lower chamber of Congress passed on third and final reading Wednesday evening, September 27, 2023, the proposed P5.768-trillion budget for fiscal year 2024.
House Bill 8989, or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for Fiscal Year 2024, gained 296 affirmative votes and three “no” votes.
Those who voted against the bill were the three-member Makabayan bloc --ACT Teachers Partylist Representative France Castro, Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Partylist Representative Raoul Manuel.
In explaining their vote, Castro said the 2024 GAB is not responsive to the appeals of the Filipinos on the issues on food, livelihood, and services.
She also noted the increased funding for “fascism, pork, foreign interests and debt payment.”
“While we are in dire need of funds for hospitals, schools, and agencies with social services mandate, lucky agencies will receive a ballooned confidential and intelligence fund worth P10.14 billion,” Castro said.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier certified the proposed measure as urgent, giving the House of Representatives the authority to pass the bill on second and third reading on the same day.
Before formally approving the GAB during the plenary session, the House approved the motion of Deputy Majority Leader and Pangasinan Sixth District Representative Marlyn Primicias-Agabas for the creation of a small committee to receive and resolve all individual amendments to the measure.
The committee will be formed by House Committee on Appropriations chairperson Elizaldy Co of Ako Bicol party-list, senior vice chairperson Stella Quimbo of Marikina City, House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe of Zamboanga City and House Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan of 4Ps party-list.
The proposed P5.768-trillion budget for next year is 9.5 percent higher than the FY 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and 21.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Almost 70 percent of the budget is allocated for economic and social service, 29.6 percent and 37.9 percent, respectively, while the rest are allocated for general public services at 15.5 percent, debt burden 12.1 percent, and defense 4.9 percent.
The education sector will get a higher budget for next year at P924.7 billion, public works at P822.2 billion, health at P306.1 billion and transportation with P214.3 billion.
The budget also includes P5.77 billion for intelligence funds and P4.864 for confidential funds.
The Office of the President (OP) will get the biggest chunk of the confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), which is almost 50 percent of the total figure.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) and Department of Education (Deped), which are both under Vice President Sara Duterte, will get a total of P650 million CIF.
In a statement, Co said the CIF of the OVP, DepEd and other civilian agencies will be reallocated to augment the budget of agencies dealing with the tension in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“So far, that’s what we have identified (OVP, DepEd CIF), but we’re still looking at other sources,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Among the agencies that will receive additional funds were the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Security Council, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Earlier on Wednesday, leaders of political parties at the House agreed to realign the CIF to government agencies responsible for intelligence and surveillance amid the series of “provocative” incidents in the WPS.
This came following the installation of floating barriers by the Chinese Coast Guard in portions of Bajo de Masinloc to prevent Filipinos from entering the area despite it being within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said they will also do the same.
The GAB will now be transmitted to the Senate. (SunStar Philippines)