Senate starts plenary debates on nat’l budget

Volunteers pack relief boxes for those affected by typhoon Paeng, Nov. 2. Senators are looking to boost the allocation for the calamity fund and quick response fund under the proposed 2023 national budget. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ EDD GUMBAN

Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

CONGRESS IS ON TRACK to ratify next year’s proposed P5.268-trillion national budget before the Christmas break, according to officials.

Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said he does not expect prolonged plenary debates on the budget at the Senate, since “there is really very small elbow room” to make adjustments.

The P5.268-trillion budget is 4.9% higher than this year’s budget, and equivalent to 22.2% of gross domestic product (GDP).

“I think it will be easy to prioritize and agree on the urgent matters that will immediately need funding next year. As such, I am hopeful that consensus will be arrived at on the proposed amendments to swiftly approve the budget as scheduled,” he said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld.

Congress resumes session today, with the Senate starting plenary debates on the proposed budget. The Senate expects to approve the proposed 2023 General Appropriations Act on third reading before the end of November.

A Bicameral Conference Committee will then be formed to harmonize the House and Senate version of the budget, which is expected to be sent to Malacañang for the President’s signature by mid-December.

“One of our main priorities is the ratification of next year’s national budget to provide social safety nets for the people and help them recover from the economic displacement caused by COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019),” House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement.

The House of Representatives approved the budget bill in September.

Mr. Zubiri said senators will be scrutinizing the budgets for infrastructure, education, health and agriculture, since these are the government’s priority areas.

The education sector, as mandated by the Constitution, has a proposed budget of P852.8 billion, up 8.2% year on year. The agriculture sector’s proposed budget is at P184.1 billion, while infrastructure spending is set at P1.196 trillion.

Senate Majority Leader Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva said there should be some fine-tuning for the Department of Migrant Workers’ budget because 2023 would be its first year of full operations.

“We also look forward to how the national budget would work towards giving Filipinos employment opportunities and job security, which will include a review of DoLE’s and the budget of other agencies that will be involved in job generation and workers welfare,” Mr. Villanueva said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld.

The Senate majority leader said he will move to increase funding for additional social pension for indigent senior citizens to help them cope with rising inflation.

Mr. Villanueva also seeks to fund “forward-looking projects” such as the modernization of the Professional Regulation Commission and the Doktor Para sa Bayan program, noting that the Philippines’ current doctor to population ratio is at 3.7 doctors per 10,000 Filipinos, far from the ideal ratio of 10 per 10,000.

Senator Jose “Jinggoy” E. Estrada told BusinessWorld in a Viber message that there should be more funding for agencies supporting the film industry.

“I think it is necessary also to provide additional funding for a number of very important programs of the FDCP (Film Development Council of the Philippines) such as the CreatePH Film Funding Program which will encourage the production of quality films,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zubiri also reiterated his openness to raise the calamity fund and quick response fund for 2023, especially in light of recent natural disasters.

“We will review and adjust, if necessary, the budget of our line departments to be able to respond to the immediate needs of the affected communities… and rehabilitation… We should strengthen the capacity of the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) and related agencies and local governments in disaster preparedness and response,” he added.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives said it hopes to approve as many as 18 of the Marcos administration’s 30 priority bills before session adjourns for the holidays.

“We will also speed up the passage of (Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council) LEDAC-priority bills, including bills, including the E-Governance Act and E-Government Act,” Mr. Romualdez said.

He said the House will also approve legislation for Medical Reserve Corps, Virology Institute of the Philippines, National Disease Prevention Management, Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and National Service Training Program, Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, Condonation of Unpaid Amortization and Interests of Loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and Valuation Reform.

The House is also looking to pass the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA), Internet Transaction Act, Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE), the creation of the Department of Water Resources, New Philippine Passport Act, Waste-to-Energy, Magna Carta of Barangay Health Work, and the National Government Rightsizing Program.

Mr. Romualdez said the House will also try to approve the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers and the Budget Modernization bill before the holiday break. — with M.C.L. Montecillo