House shifts ₧194B in 2024 budget to food, WPS, health

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THE House of Representatives announced on Tuesday that it realigned a total of P194 billion in the proposed 2024 General Appropriations Act to combat inflation and, at the same time, removed confidential funds from several agencies.

To address the high cost of rice and enhance food production, House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Elizaldy S. Co said the small committee introduced several changes to the 2024 proposed budget, including significant allocations to the Department of Agriculture (DA), National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), and vaccine initiatives to combat the African swine fever (ASF).

The small committee was tasked by the House plenary to receive and resolve individual amendments to House Bill 8980, or the proposed 2024 General Appropriations Act.

According to Co, substantial funds were allocated to agencies such as the Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to support various critical programs, including healthcare, social welfare, and education.

The amendments provide additional budget to DA (P20 billion) for the rice subsidy program to help sell rice at subsidized prices; NIA (P40 billion) to install solar-driven irrigation pumps and subsidize communal irrigations; PCA (P2 billion) for massive planting and replanting of seedlings; P1.5 billion for vaccines against ASF; and the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority (P1 billion) to construct fishery and post-harvest facilities in Palawan and the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

To invest in people and the country’s future, Co said funds were also allocated to the following: P43.9 billion to DOH for Medical Assistance to Indigent Patients (MAIP); legacy and specialty hospitals; cancer assistance; communicable diseases program; and health facility enhancement; P1 billion to UP-PGH for MAIP; and P35 billion for the DSWD’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) and sustainable livelihood program.

Co added that the chamber also allocated P17.5 billion to the DOLE for the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa ating Disadvantage/Displaced Workers/Government Internship Program; P10.4 billion for the DOLE-Tesda Training for Work Scholarship Program; and P17.1 billion for the CHED Tertiary Education Subsidy and Tulong Dunong Program.

Co said this comprehensive set of amendments reflect the committee’s commitment to addressing pressing national issues and optimizing the allocation of resources for the benefit of the Filipino people and the nation’s future.

Zero

Meanwhile, Co said the Office of the Vice President (OVP), along with the Departments of Education (DepEd), Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Agriculture (DA), and Foreign Affairs (DFA), are set to receive “zero” confidential funds.

Co added that the House of Representatives is also getting zero confidential funds.

Instead, Co said the majority of the allocated funding will be directed towards agencies responsible for safeguarding national security, especially in the West Philippine Sea.

As part of the small panel’s recommendations, a total of P1.23 billion in confidential funds has been reallocated to frontline agencies responsible for monitoring and protecting the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

These reallocations include:

  • P300 million for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).
  • P100 million for the National Security Council (NSC).
  • P200 million for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) for intelligence activities and ammunition.
  • P381.8 million for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to support the development and expansion of the Pag-asa Island Airport, a project with a total allocation of P3 billion.

In lieu of confidential funds, several agencies will receive additional allocations for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE):

  • P30 million for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
  • P25 million for DICT.
  • P30 million for DFA.
  • P50 million for the Office of the Ombudsman.
  • P150 million for DepEd’s Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE).

According to Co, this realignment of confidential funds reflects the committee’s commitment to prioritize national security and intelligence gathering in light of the volatile situation in the West Philippine Sea.

For her part, Senior Vice Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee Stella Luz Quimbo explained that the reallocation was based on the agencies’ mandates, with confidential funds intended for surveillance activities aligned with their principal functions.

Quimbo added that the committee considered previous budgetary allocations and utilization levels in making these decisions.

Challenge

Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, meanwhile, commended this decision of the House but challenged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to follow suit and give up the Office of the President’s confidential funds.

“The overwhelming public clamor to remove and realign confidential funds has prompted Congress to realign such corruption-prone allocations. This is a huge win for the vast majority of Filipino people calling for transparency and accountability in government spending,” Brosas said.

“However, we still have a long way to go. As the Senate deliberates the proposed 2024 national budget, we will strengthen our call to completely remove all confidential funds and realign them to social services and programs,” Brosas added.

Last year, Brosas noted that the bicameral conference committee restored the controversial P150-million confidential fund of the DepEd as well as the P10-billion funding for the government’s anti-communist task force, which was previously realigned.

The lawmaker said that instead of allocating these funds for undisclosed purposes, they should be realigned to address the pressing needs of our society, particularly in basic social services such as education, healthcare, housing, and livelihood programs.

“We call on President Marcos Jr. to give up his P4.56 billion in confidential and intelligence funds, which is almost half of the total CIF [48.9 percent]. These funds should be redirected to basic social services, especially amid the high prices of food and meager wages,” said Brosas.

Co: Budget bill to Senate by Oct.25

In a separate interview, Co announced that the lower chamber will submit the national budget to the Senate by October 25.

“The budget bill will be printed within two weeks,” said Co.

“Interestingly, when we mentioned realigning the confidential fund, the Senate quickly agreed, marking the first time they’ve shown such alignment with the House’s stance. I heard they had an executive meeting immediately, and it seems like it’s already a done deal based on their decision,” said Co.

Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila