House panel extends validity of 2024 national budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) – The House Committee on Appropriations has amended the government's ₱5.768-trillion spending plan for 2024 to extend the validity of funds for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

The amendment was included in the committee report on the 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that the panel approved Thursday in a closed-door meeting.

Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, senior vice chairperson of the committee, told reporters that they also removed a provision in the GAB requiring Congress to submit a report to the executive branch to ensure the legislature's independence, but did not elaborate on the specifics of the report in question.

Section 66 of the General Provisions of the 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by the Department of Budget and Management to Congress states that disbursement of funds should be made not later than Dec. 31, 2024.

Meanwhile, it states that the delivery, inspection and payment of MOOE and other capital outlays shall be made not later than June 30, 2025. All unused funds shall be returned to the national treasury after the budget's validity lapses.

"There were two changes on the NEP," Quimbo said. "One is on the validity of the budget. We changed it from one and a half [years] for MOOE to two years."

However, she did not offer an explanation on the rationale behind extending the validity of only the budget's MOOE.

"And then the other is we put in a special provision on the chapter for Congress to ensure the independence of Congress, meaning that provision would ensure the independence of Congress as a co-equal branch of government," she added.

Quimbo said the panel retained the GAB's provisions on confidential and intelligence funds, as well as the requirement for government agencies to submit reports on the Commission on Audit's findings and recommendations, and post them online.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires has asked Congress to remove a provision in the GAB requiring the publication of annual audit reports on various government agencies, offices and local government units.

Plenary debates on the GAB will start on Sept. 19, with the House eyeing its approval on third and final reading on Sept. 27. Discussions will kick off with the Development Budget Coordination Committee, Quimbo said.

A 30-minute period will be given to each lawmaker who wishes to question the sponsor of an agency's budget, including the time allotted for answers.

A lawmaker who has asked questions may be allowed another round of interpellation, subject to the approval of the House majority leader.

CNN Philippines has sought clarification from Quimbo as to the reasoning behind the amendments to the 2024 GAB committee report. This story will be updated when she responds.