DFA budget for 2024 hurdles Senate panel

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Sen. Loren Legarda leads the committee hearing on the proposed 2024 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 26) — A subcommittee of the Senate panel on finance approved on Tuesday the proposed ₱24.058-billion budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for 2024.

“For sure, your budget will be increased because we have projects that I would continue to support,” Senate President pro tempore Loren Legarda told the agency as she led the hearing.

The four hour-long hearing comes after the Philippine Coast Guard reportedly removed a floating barrier installed by China at Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said the government plans to file a diplomatic protest with China over the matter.

RELATED: DFA says removal of China's barrier 'consistent' with PH position

But Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said he is “sick and tired of all these diplomatic protests,” and asked for other approaches to elicit a response from the East Asian giant.

For his part, Sen. Francis Tolentino inquired if the Philippine government has efforts to “convert the apparent overwhelming support” from various countries into “something more relevant.”

Manalo listed ongoing talks with Japan, Canada, United Kingdoms, Germany, Australia, and Vietnam to increase the country's defense capabilities and domain awareness.

Senators urge DFA for programs to ‘laymanize’ 2016 arbitral ruling

Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel urged the DFA to come up with programs to educate the Filipino people about the 2016 arbitral ruling, which China is still rejecting.

“Perhaps what Senator Pimentel is asking is not through formal fora or academic gathering, perhaps how to laymanize everything that can be easily understood by the common [people], the masa,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino also said the approach would need consistency, citing that the DFA “missed the chance to reach moviegoers” when the “Barbie” film was released in Philippine theaters last July.

RELATED: DFA 'not convinced' controversial 'Barbie' map depicts 9-dash line

“‘Yong 8-dash line, wala naman pagkakaiba sa 9-dash line, ngayon 10-dash line na [There’s no difference in the 8-dash line with the 9-dash line, which is now 10-dash line],” he added. “If we were consistent in that, even the moviegoers would have been informed that this is not correct.”

In response, Manalo said the DFA is set to “create greater awareness” next year about the situation in the South China Sea, as well as why international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the historical ruling “are all important to us.”

The DFA chief also said the department has organized symposiums and recently launched the microsite on the arbitration victory.

He told senators that the agency is working with the Comics Association of the Philippines to update a previous publication about the arbitral ruling, and floated the idea of a possible documentary or film to tackle the issue.

On receiving contingent fund

When asked if the DFA received funding from the contingent fund of the Office of the President (OP) in 2022, DFA Assistant Secretary Domingo Nolasco said he does not have the agency’s 2022 records, but the department has received around $500,000 or around ₱28 million this year.

Nolasco said these funds are for assistance and donations to calamity-hit countries. Pimentel said he supports this kind of transaction.

“That's why we're against the use of the contingent fund for CIF (confidential and intelligence fund), but for this kind of use na pinakita sa atin ng DFA, ito ang lehitimo, tama, commendable na ginawa ng Republika ng Pilipinas through the DFA,” he said, alluding to the controversial release of the OP to the Office of the Vice President of ₱125 million for the latter’s confidential funds.

[Translation: The contingent fund must not be used for CIF, but for this kind of use by DFA, this is a legitimate, correct, and commendable act done by the Republic of the Philippines through the DFA.]

In a separate statement, Pimentel said the Manalo-led DFA is a “model of fiscal integrity” for not requesting CIF next year, as he criticized “how several civilian agencies are dipping their hands into the confidential funds.”