Angara defends swift approval of bicam report on proposed 2023 budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 6) — Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Sonny Angara on Tuesday defended the fast approval of the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed 2023 budget, which restored controversial allocations for some government agencies.

“You are working against the clock here because you want to have a new budget in January,” he told CNN Philippines’ The Source. “We don’t want public interest to be prejudiced with a delayed budget because the economy is trying to recover and we are trying to produce jobs for our countrymen.”

Angara noted government spending plays a big role in economic recovery as seen in the years when there was a delayed budget or a reenacted budget that significantly affected the country’s growth.

While the bicameral committee meeting on Monday was swift, Angara said this was just the “tip of the iceberg.” Prior to the meeting, a series of discussions among lawmakers was already held to iron out differences and polish the provisions of the proposed budget for next year, he added.

Among notable provisions under the committee’s version of the proposed allocation is the restoration of the ₱150-million confidential fund of the Department of Education (DepEd). 

This was initially questioned by some lawmakers and education groups, and was slashed to ₱30 million by the Senate. Sen. Risa Hontiveros even pointed out this was even bigger than the ₱141.2-million confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).

Angara said the lower chamber was adamant in restoring what was in the original proposal submitted by the executive. He also said this was one of the last provisions discussed so they had to make a decision at some point to finally approve the report.

He noted it is misleading to compare the funds of DepEd and NICA since the former can use the confidential fund for other purposes like buying information and protective services, while the latter is dedicated to intelligence programs.

All in all, Angara said ₱67 million worth of confidential funds of other government agencies were realigned to their respective programs. He did not mention what agencies and how much of their funds were realigned.

In a Senate session on Nov. 23, some of the agencies whose confidential funds were realigned were the Foreign Affairs department (₱5 million), Justice department (₱19.2 million), and the Social Welfare department (₱2 million).

Angara said a five-man committee in the Senate was formed to hold periodic meetings and ensure that CIFs are being used properly.