PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

A SMALL committee has been appointed to amend the P5.268-trillion budget bill, which passed on third reading this week before the House of Representatives went on recess, according to majority leader Manuel Jose M. Dalipe, who will himself be a member of the amending team.

Mr. Dalipe said the other members are House appropriations chairman and AKO-BICOL Party-list Representative Elizaldy S. Co, Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo, and Minority leader Marcelino C. Libanan.

Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst, said via Facebook chat that the small committee follows the precedent of the last Congress, but called for further scrutiny of opaque budget items.

“All the proposed changes, particularly those covering massive intelligence and confidential funds, should still be pushed in this small committee and through the entire budget process in the Senate and the bicameral conference committee,” Mr. Ridon said.

Voting 289-3, the chamber approved House Bill 4488, or 2023 General Appropriations Bill, before adjourning for recess. 

The proposed spending plan is 4.9% higher than this year’s budget and the highest on record. President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday certified it as urgent, allowing legislators to approve the measure on second and third reading on the same day.

“The expeditious passage of the proposed 2023 budget is the product of the collective effort of the entire House, in transparent and open proceedings where the majority accorded ample opportunity for the constructive inputs of our friends from the minority bloc,” Speaker Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement.

The bill allocates education P858.8 billion, up 8.2% from the 2022 level.

Mr. Romualdez said the budget is in line “with the eight-point socio-economic agenda of the Marcos administration to achieve sustainable growth.” 

Infrastructure funding across various agencies was P1.196 trillion, up 1.54%, including P140.4 billion for the Network Development Program, P88.5 billion for the Asset Preservation Program and P38 billion for the Bridge program.

Minority leader Marcelino C. Libanan said in his turno en contra speech that the minority does not necessarily oppose the budget but must do its duty in examining all spending programs.

“The scrutiny of the minority members of the proposed budget does not mean we absolutely disagree with it,” Mr. Libanan said.

Legislators with the Makabayan bloc voted against the bill, noting its swift passage.

ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said in her turno en contra speech that the proposed budget was not responsive to the needs of the people, saying that the need to meet fiscal targets appear to have taken priority.

The cuts to key programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) will affect the lives of the poor, Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said in plenary.

“This national budget banners the theme ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ when in reality it is an ‘Agenda for Austerity,’ as funds for social safety nets and social services were drastically cut,” Ms. Brosas said. 

The DSWD’s proposed budget for 2023 is P197 billion, 3.8% lower, while DoLE was allocated P25.9 billion, down 29.9%. 

“The funds allocated for COVID-19 response are not enough, despite the claims of the current administration that it will strengthen the monitoring and surveillance capacity of the health system,” Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel said. — Matthew Carl L. Montecillo