Senate approves 2023 budget bill


By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE SENATE on Wednesday realigned more than P170 million worth of agencies’ intelligence funds as it unanimously approved on final reading its version of the proposed P5.268-trillion budget for next year.

Senators slashed P120 million of intelligence funds from the Education department, P20 million from the Office of the Ombudsman, P19.2 million from the Justice department, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the Committee on Finance, told the plenary.

They also cut the Foreign Affairs department’s intelligence budget by P5 million, the Social Welfare department by P2 million and other executive offices by P6 million. The amounts were moved to the agencies’ maintenance and operating expenses.

“All within the agency because we did not want to deprive the agencies of their budgets,” Mr. Angara said.

The Senate, which is dominated by allies of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., did not touch his office’s P4.5-billion intelligence and confidential funds, as well as the P500 million allotted to Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio’s office.

Lawmakers approved the appropriation measure, which was certified as urgent, on second and third reading on the same day.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III, who had proposed a P2.25-billion cut in the Office of the President’s intelligence and confidential funds, asked for details on the realignments.

The opposition leader had also wanted to scrap the P500-million confidential budget of the vice-president and the P150-million confidential funds under the Department of Education (DepEd), which she also heads.

A P100-million cut in the DepEd’s confidential budget was initially transferred to the operating expenses of the vice-president’s office, before Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel proposed to keep it under DepEd. Another P20 million was later realigned as operating expenses.

Ms. Hontiveros then proposed a special provision under the 2023 budget bill that will compel DepEd to create a work plan on the use of its confidential funds.

Under the bill, “the DepEd shall submit to both houses of Congress its proposed work plan for the appropriated confidential funds of the agency.”

“We should leave these dangerous tasks to the professionals,” she told the Senate floor. “All public funds should always be subject to audit. We should know where the national coffers go and if such huge allocations to a single agency are worth it,” she added in mixed English and Filipino.

“Tens of millions [of pesos] is still tens of millions,” she said. “The exceptions to this must be very strict, that is our vow to the people.”

Mr. Pimentel said he had proposed to realign P3 billion worth of confidential and intelligence funds in the 2023 budget.

“The Office of the President… is not a uniformed or military agency, and also is not an intelligence practitioner,” he said.

“We respect that, unfortunately we cannot agree,” Mr. Angara said in response.

Backing Mr. Pimentel, Ms. Hontiveros said: “I would like to place on record my continuing objection to the propriety of lodging confidential funds in agencies not involved in national security, and the propriety, not just the amount, is important.”

“We have agencies that are more in need of funds for the surveillance and other programs for the security of the country,” including those against human trafficking and child abuse, she added.

The Senate increased the budgets of several other programs including those on financial assistance, cooperative support, enhancing micro, small and medium enterprises and national electrification.