Congress set to okay budget

Reconciled version up next week for PBBM signature before yearend

Senate and House leaders on Friday expressed optimism that they could iron out the differences in their respective versions of the national budget and have it ready for signing by the President before the year is out.

BICAM KICKOFF. Senator Loren Legarda (center) explains a point while flanked by Senators Sonny Angara and Imee Marcos as the bicameral deliberations on the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023 start at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City on Friday. The lawmakers later gathered for a group photo (inset). Ver Noveno and Senate PRIB

Senate finance committee chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, who heads the Senate contingent in the bicameral committee, said Congress is expected to come up with a reconciled version of the 2023 budget bill next week.

Angara said the realignment of confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) could be a sticking point but said he was optimistic it will all be sorted out.

“Both Congress and the Senate adopted the Medium-term Fiscal Framework prior to the budget deliberations. This will be our guidepost for finalizing the budget,” added Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, who heads the House committee on appropriations.

Co heads the House contingent to the bicameral conference committee on the P5.268 trillion budget bill for 2023, which convened Friday at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of the 2023 national budget.

“In the end, the final version will be one that best supports the President’s eight-point socio-economic agenda. We envision the final version as a budget that creates jobs, keeps the economy stable, and helps keep inflation within a manageable range,” Co said.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is proposing a P4.5 billion CIF for his office next year, while Vice President Sara Duterte is seeking a P500 million CIF under her office’s P2.3 billion proposed allocation for 2023.

But the Senate realigned P152 million worth of CIF to various agencies when it approved the proposed 2023 national budget on third and final reading.

“Yes, we discussed it (CIF) and Senator [Risa] Hontiveros already said that she hopes that the Senate amendment realigning hundreds of millions of CIF to other agencies will be sustained [by the bicameral conference committee],” Angara said.

“We did not cut their budget but just reallocated the funds to the agencies’ maintenance and other operating expenses,” the senator said.

Co said the House contingent to the bicam will stand firm on what he described as “non-negotiables” in next year’s national budget, which includes the country’s ongoing pandemic response and measures to curb inflation.

He said he expects a smooth bicameral conference on the country’s spending program for 2023, despite disagreeing provisions in their respective versions of the bill because they have a common agenda.

Speaker Martin G. Romualdez on Friday assured the President and the nation that they would have a national budget before the end of the year.

The House leader made the assurance as the House of Representatives and the Senate started reconciling their versions of the proposed P5.268-trillion 2023 spending bill through a bicameral conference committee.

The House had passed the proposed budget for next year based on the National Expenditure Program, President Marcos’ version of the spending plan. The Senate approved its version this week.

Romualdez said the two chambers have enough time to come up with the reconciled version of the budget before they start their Christmas recess on Dece. 17.

“We have sufficient time; we will finally approve the budget before yearend. It is the most important tool in accomplishing the objectives of the President’s Agenda for Prosperity and his eight-point socio-economic development plan,” Romualdez said.

“With this budget, which is the first full-year spending measure proposed by the President, we hope to sustain or even accelerate our economic growth, which should benefit all of our people,” Romualdez said.

He pointed out that the data for the first three quarters of the year “is very encouraging.”

“With economic expansion figures averaging 7.7 percent, we are on track to achieving the administration’s growth target for this year of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent,” Romualdez said.

Meanwhile, Angara said the government could grant health workers’ demands for higher pay if this can be sustained in the long term.

Otherwise, he said, that it is like a false promise or false hope.

Health workers have been demanding a starting pay of P33,000 a month to keep up with rising prices.

Senator Risa Hontiveros noted that everybody deserves a wage increase during a crisis and inflation.

“It’s high time that the government reviewed the position, classification, and compensation scheme for the health care workers from doctors until the barangay health and nutrition workers,” she said.

She said health care workers should rightfully be compensated while ensuring that wage gaps between and among public and private workers and in national and local settings are addressed.

During the budget deliberation, the DOH committed to ensuring full implementation of the mandated SG-15 (P 35,097) base pay for government nurses and to pay the benefits due to health care workers.

The House leadership assigned the following lawmakers as the chamber’s contingent to the bicam conference: Co, Quimbo, Reps. Ralph Recto, Aurelio Gonzales Jr., Mannix Dalipe, Ferdinand Alexander Marcos, Jay-Jay Suarez, Neptali Gonzales II, Joboy Aquino II, Raul Angelo Bongalon, Eleandro Jesus Madrona, Michael John Duavit, Marcelino Libanan and Edcel Lagman.

For the Senate, members of the bicam are composed of Senators Angara, Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Sherwin Gatchalian, Ronald Dela Rosa, Christopher Go, Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Francis Tolentino, Mark Villar, JV Ejercito, Alan Cayetano, Francis Escudero, and Jinggoy Estrada.

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