MANILA – The Senate on Tuesday approved House of Representatives Bill 8980, or the PHP5.768 trillion 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA), with 21 affirmative votes, zero negative, and one abstention.
This was after President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. certified the measure as urgent in a letter addressed to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri "to address the need to maintain continuous government operations following the end of the current fiscal year to expedite the funding of various programs, projects, and activities for FY (Fiscal Year) 2024 and to ensure budgetary preparedness that will enable the government to effectively perform its constitutional mandate."
In his sponsorship speech, Committee on Finance chairperson, Senator Sonny Angara, emphasized that the proposed 2024 GAA reflects the aspiration of the President of Bagong Pilipinas (New Philippines).
"In the new Philippines, Mr. President, we are strong and capable enough to defend our sovereignty and keep our citizens safe," Angara said.
"This is why, through the leadership of Senate President Migz Zubiri, we are adding to the already significant augmentations made to the budgets of our national defense agencies, such as the Department of National Defense and the different service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines."
He also mentioned the inclusion of the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, National Bureau of Investigation, and Philippine Coast Guard.
Angara noted the increase in the proposed budget allotted for the Marawi Compensation Board, as well as the realignment in the proposed budget of the Department of Agriculture to boost its various programs.
The proposed 2024 budget of the Department of Education was also augmented to build more school buildings, other programs, and scholarships for state universities and colleges.
Angara said the proposed budget for the implementation of the Tulong Trabaho Fund was increased and more slots were added for the Training for Work Scholarship Program for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Additional funds were also pushed for the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation and Sustainable Livelihood Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, as well as the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers Program and Government Internship Program under the Department of Labor and Employment.
To show the government's commitment to health care, proposed budgets for the Medical and Financial Assistance to Indigent and Financially-Incapacitated Patients and the Health Facilities Enhancement Program were increased, and additional funding support for the Lung Center of the Philippines.
Angara said augmentations for the Department of Health were maintained for nutrition programs and funds were set aside for the purchase of drugs, medicines, and vaccines.
He said funds for the Climate Change Commission and the implementation of the recently approved Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System Act were included.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also got an additional budget to be used for building more marine stations, improving existing marine stations, and boosting the coordination with partner marine stations.
Emergency benefits and allowances for health care and non-health care workers were also considered.
The Senate also retained the additional budget for the Pabahay Para Sa Pamilyang Pilipino and Integrated Disaster Shelter Assistance Program of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.
Additional budget for the Department of Information and Communications Technology was also provided to increase Internet connectivity in the country.
The construction of Offshore Wind Integration Port by the Energy Regulatory Commission was also supported by the Senate, including funds for the Philippine Energy Research and Policy Institute, Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organization, and Waste-to-Energy component of the Renewable Energy Development Program.
Funds were also provided for the departments of trade, science and technology, tourism, and foreign affairs for their various programs and activities.
Senators also sought to increase the national tax allotment for the local government units and the Local Government Support Fund.
"Allow me to reiterate that through the inputs and support of our colleagues in the Senate, we have come up with a proposal that still aligns with the broad goals of the Marcos administration towards transforming the Philippines into a more prosperous nation," Angara said.
Zubiri assigned Angara as chairperson of the Senate panel on the bicameral conference with counterparts in the House to align the disagreeing provisions of the 2024 GAA with Senators Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda, Imee Marcos, Cynthia Villar, Ronald dela Rosa, Sherwin Gatchalian, Bong Go, Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Mark Villar, Francis Tolentino, JV Ejercito, and Jinggoy Estrada.
According to the Senate Committee on Finance's budget calendar, the bicameral conference will be from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.
The General Appropriations Bill’s bicameral report, which should be signed by Dec. 6 and prepared and enrolled as a bill starting Dec. 7, will be sent to the Department of Budget and Management on Dec. 15 before it could be signed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Dec. 16. (PNA)