Senate plenary begins debates on proposed 2024 national budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 8) — The Senate on Wednesday started plenary debates on the proposed ₱5.768 trillion national budget for 2024, but it turns out that the government has yet to spend ₱1.27 trillion in this year's budget.

Sen. Sonny Angara, Committee on Finance chairperson and sponsor of the 2024 budget bill, disclosed the figure as minority lawmakers interpellated him to better understand the financial performance of agencies.

Angara, who was speaking on behalf of the Marcos administration's economic managers, said so far the total obligated amount in the 2023 General Appropriations Act is ₱4.08 trillion, while unobligated is ₱1.27 trillion.

Out of the obligated amounts, 80% has been disbursed, translating to 61% on total allotments and appropriations, he added.

The proposed 2024 budget is 9.5% higher than this year's budget, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). For 2023, the government has a ₱5.268-trillion budget.

In an online document, the DBM explained that obligations are "liabilities legally incurred and committed to be paid for by the government either immediately or in the future."

Disbursements, on the other hand, were the "actual withdrawal of cash from the Bureau of the Treasury due to the encashment of checks issued by agencies and payment of budgetary obligations," it added.

Angara said agencies seen with high underspending rates were the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Migrant Workers, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Energy, and Department of Tourism.

"There are varied reasons," he told Sen. Risa Hontiveros. "There are procurement-related difficulties such as late delivery of goods, sometimes there are failed biddings, there are checks which have yet to be disbursed."

He also mentioned that for the DSWD, the ongoing implementation of social protection programs need "a lot of preliminary work."

Hontiveros, the deputy minority leader, also pointed out that the Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, and Department of Public Works and Highways have low disbursement rates.

"If I'm not mistaken these are among the agencies with the highest budget allocations in the national budget. Their spending performances are critical to drive growth, for DA in particular, to cushion the effect of food inflation," she said.

Angara said the DBM is recommending steps for agencies to speed up their spending performance, which include the conduct of early procurement activities, capacity-building and training for procurement entities, and adoption of government systems to allow for real-time transaction monitoring.

Other measures mentioned in catch-up plans were creating more Bids and Awards Committees and the engagement of additional workers to assist in procurement.

The upper chamber resumed its session on Monday after over a month of adjournment since Sept. 30. Angara sponsored on Tuesday next year's National Expenditure Program.