ALL SET. Senator Sonny Angara and Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co lead the last bicam committee meeting Monday morning (Dec. 5, 2022) on the proposed 2023 General Appropriations Act.  The legislators confirmed the restoration of the PHP150 confidential funds of the Department of Education (DepEd). (Photo courtesy of Office of Senator Sonny Angara)

MANILA – The bicameral conference committee on Monday restored the controversial PHP150 million confidential fund of the Department of Education as well as the PHP10 billion funding for the government’s anti-communist task force.

Senator Sonny Angara, who co-chairs the bicameral conference committee with Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co confirmed this after members of the body from the Senate and the House reconciled and approved House Bill No. 4488 or the proposed 2023 national budget amounting to PHP5.268 trillion.

Angara said both panels have agreed to return DepEd's PHP150 million confidential fund previously realigned by the Senate.

"Ang sabi nila (What they said) is they need that budget. Syempre nirespeto natin yung wishes ng agency [DepEd] (Of course we respect the wishes of the agency)," Angara told reporters in an ambush interview.

However, other funds that were previously slashed were not brought back.

‘Yung sa DepEd, naibalik po ‘yon, pero ‘yong sa ibang agencies na tinapyas po ng Senado, ‘di na po naibalik ("The one in DepEd was reinstated, but the other agencies that were disallowed by the Senate were not restored)," Angara said.

Co, for his part, said while they agreed to restore the confidential fund, they urged the department under Vice President Sara Duterte to be more efficient in its spending.

"That's the decision of the leadership of the House na ituloy because mahirap yung mga kabataan natin nare-recruit sa maling papuntang landas (to continue because our youth are being recruited that may lead them to the wrong path). So, we want them to be secured in the future of our children," Co explained.

Duterte earlier said that her agency needed that fund to help the government fight crimes targeting both learners and teachers.

With this development, the budget of DepEd for 2023 was increased to PHP678.317 billion from its original approved budget amounting to PHP677.230 billion.

Also, Angara and Co confirmed that they have restored the PHP10 billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Meanwhile, the committee decided to add funds for state universities and colleges, infrastructure projects, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Supreme Court, and the Judiciary.

He said targeted "ayuda" (aid) programs of different agencies were also retained. The body also decided to increase the government subsidy to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and funds to assist indigent patients.

The Libreng Sakay program, which was earlier promised by House Speaker Martin Romualdez to retain next year, was also approved, said Co.

He added that the construction of specialty hospitals, which is also part of the President's goal, has also been assured under next year’s budget.

"We will see the promise of the president that we'll build all over the country ng malalaking ospital (bigger hospitals) that's really good social services. So, we're going to fund it in a multi-year," he said noting that the bicam also allotted PHP10 billion for the repair of the bridges and schools destroyed or damaged by calamities.

Both the Senate and the House are set to ratify HB 4488 on Monday afternoon. Once ratified, the bill will be delivered to Malacanang for the signature of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PNA)