Greater transparency sought as bicam on 2024 budget starts

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

November 30, 2023, 7:25 pm

<p>AKO BICOL Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co <em>(File photo courtesy of House Press and Public Affairs Bureau)</em></p>

AKO BICOL Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co (File photo courtesy of House Press and Public Affairs Bureau)

MANILA – The chairperson of the House of Representatives appropriations committee on Thursday called for greater transparency during the bicameral deliberations on the proposed PHP5.77 trillion national budget for 2024 to reconcile the differences between the approved proposals of the two chambers.

During the bicameral panel's first meeting held at the Manila Golf and Country Club in Makati City, AKO BICOL Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, leader of the House contingent, urged their Senate counterparts to work together in reconciling the conflicting provisions of the government's national spending plan for 2024 and aligning them with the overarching programs of the current administration.

"Let us approach this endeavor with a spirit of unity and guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, and the unwavering pursuit of the common good," Co said.

He noted that one of the challenging processes in the crafting of the budget involves striking a balance in handling debts and allocating funds to pivotal government projects and programs to ensure long-term economic stability.

"This delicate equilibrium in handling debt while allocating resources for pivotal projects and programs necessitates a strategic and judicious approach to budget allocation," Co said.

Another critical factor to consider in crafting the budget is the administrative capacity of various agencies to achieve budget objectives, he said.

"The complexities and intricacies in the management and implementation by the agency were manifest during the hearings of the Committee. It underscores the need for a comprehensive strategy to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability in the program implementation," Co said.

He noted that in addressing those challenges, the House version was crafted to be "a more cost-efficient intervention” that is aligned "with the targets and goals for sustainable economic growth and public welfare” of the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

The House version stripped various government offices, including the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education, a total of PHP1.23 billion in confidential funds and allocated them to front-line agencies in charge of monitoring and protecting the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The House realigned the confidential funds, allocating PHP300 million as additional budget to the National Intelligence and Coordination Agency; PHP100 million to the National Security Council; PHP200 million to the Philippine Coast Guard for ammunition and intelligence activities, and PHP381.8 million to the Department of Transportation for the upgrade and expansion of the airport in Pag-asa Island.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez also sought bipartisan support for the 2024 appropriations bill, noting the changes introduced by the House to the budget submitted by the Department of Budget and Management will address the need to increase food production, shield poor consumers from rising prices of goods, and help enhance farmers' and fisher folks’ income.

The House version allocated PHP20 billion for the rice subsidy program, PHP40 billion to improve irrigation, and PHP1 billion for fisheries and post-harvest facilities.

“The national expenditure program passed by the House, not only addresses food production and combatting food inflation, it is also investing more for the Filipino people and the future of this nation,” Romualdez said. "We have set aside around PHP125 billion for medical assistance, livelihood assistance, job creation, and scholarship programs for deserving students – the future of this nation." (PNA)