SENATE President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri on Thursday said the upper chamber of Congress is on schedule as it directs budget deliberations towards the country’s recovery, with proposed funds focused on revenue generation and programs to tame inflation.
“The direction of the national government as you can see in the budget is, first of all, (is to remain) frivolous (sic) or thrifty, save where they can save, and number two, continue our revenue collection, plugging the leakages so that the avenues of corruption will disappear and the funds will go to the government,” Mr. Zubiri told reporters via Facebook.
“Third, belt-tightening, at this point in time, and fighting inflation,” he added.
He assured that a reenacted budget would “absolutely not” happen, noting that only a few government offices remain in line for budget hearings.
The Senate plans to finish budget hearings next week, so that when plenary sessions resume on November 7, budget debates can immediately begin, he said.
They plan to finish plenary deliberations within two weeks. “Maximum fourth week approval on second or third reading. Best effort, first week of December, bicameral approval, the latest in the second week,” he said.
Mr. Zubiri also said there are no major roadblocks expected in the passage of the proposed P5.268-trillion budget as it is almost identical to this year’s budget.
“The difference is small, so the important thing here is that we fund the agencies that we think deserve to be given funds to improve the provision of assistance to our countrymen,” he said.
INTELLIGENCE FUNDSMeanwhile, the allocation of so-called “intelligence funds” under the 2023 proposed budgets of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) was supported by members of the Cabinet, Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said on Thursday.
Opposition lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have questioned the proposed funds, set at P500 million for the OVP and P150 million for DepEd.
The two agencies are headed by Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio.
“When we prepared the budget, one of the things that we considered is whether they can use the money and if they have plans for the money… They have indicated the programs [and] where they will use the intel funds,” Ms. Pangandaman said during an interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel.
“I’m not sure if I can divulge but during the Cabinet [meeting], it was also discussed. The vice president detailed where the intel and confidential funds will be used,” she added. “So, during that time, everyone from the Cabinet agreed on it, so we approved the request of the vice president.”
Early this week, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman said that P9.29 billion worth of confidential funds spread throughout the P5.268 trillion proposed budget should be scrapped, including those from the OVP and DepEd.
“This total amount is much bigger than the appropriations of many government offices and departments, including the constitutional commissions and offices,” Mr. Lagman said in a statement.
“The OVP is not a surveillance agency and has no jurisdiction over matters of national security… and the mandate of DepEd does not include detective activities,” he added, saying such budget items with no detailed purpose are open to corruption.
Ms. Pangandaman took exception when asked to comment on observations that the 2023 budget seems to have been politicized.
She added that the Budget department and the Commission on Audit already provided reporting guidelines on the “nature” of the project or program that the fund will be used for prior to utilization.
When further pressed on the issue, Ms. Pangandaman said Ms. Duterte-Carpio would be in a better position to explain. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Diego Gabriel C. Robles