By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE SENATE should ensure that the bicameral version of next year’s budget bill aligns with national priorities rather than local interests, political analysts said at the weekend.

“The Senate contingent should rein in the tendency of the House of Representatives to fill the budget with local infrastructure projects that may not be aligned with national or regional priorities,” Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“It should ensure that all local infrastructure projects had already been identified to avoid lump sum appropriations in the budget,” he added.

Congressmen usually prioritize programs that benefit their districts, said Zyza Nadine Suzara, executive director at the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment and Democracy.

“These are soft projects lodged in the budgets of agencies such as Social Welfare, Health and Labor,” she said in a Viber message. “In fact, these are the budget items that got funding increases in the House version of the General Appropriations bill.”

Congressmen have approved P77.5 billion more in appropriations for health, education, transportation and other social services.

The Health department’s budget was raised by P20.25 billion, the Philippine General Hospital got P500 million more and the Education department got P10 billion and P581 million more for classrooms and its special education program.

Congressmen also increased the Public Works department’s budget by P10 billion for its water system projects in remote villages.

Another P12.5 billion was added to the budget of the Social Welfare department — P5 billion for its so-called crisis situation program, P5 billion for senior citizen pensions and P2.5 billion for livelihood projects.

The Transportation department’s free ride and bike lane projects also got P5.5 billion more.

Ms. Suzara said the Senate probably prioritize funding for the Education department and uphold increases in health programs under the Health department.

Senators and congressmen are unlikely to make major changes to the 2023 budget measure, she said.

“I don’t expect the bicameral conference committee meetings to take long especially given the fact that there are only a couple of minority legislators there,” she added.

“Congress is right on schedule in passing the 2023 national budget. There seems to be no major disagreements between the two chambers when it comes to budget priorities.”

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo, vice-chairperson of the House committee on appropriations, last month said the House had realigned P77 billion worth of the 2023 budget.

Senate realignment amounted to P200 billion, said Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the Senate finance committee.

Ms. Quimbo, who is part of the budget bicameral committee, expected smooth sailing for the budget measure as long as lawmakers make the medium-term fiscal framework their “guiding post.”

The bicameral committee would probably continue to follow President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s priorities, Ms. Suzara said.

“This means infrastructure development along with avalanches in the special purpose funds meant to pay the pension arrears of the military and salary increases civilian state workers will remain as major funding priorities,” she said.

“Adjustments in the fiscal space, especially for the continued fight against COVID-19 and its socioeconomic impacts will likely be incremental,” Ms. Suzara said.

Additional budgets for worker support, fuel subsidies and service contracting — if lawmakers were so inclined — would be miniscule, she added.

Senators and congressmen will hold another bicameral meeting on Monday.

Once members agree on a reconciled version, it will be submitted for ratification by both Houses of Congress.

Mr. Marcos is expected to sign the budget bill into law before the year ends.

“It is in the interest of all for the budget to be passed in the soonest time, because a reenacted budget converts the next year’s budget into the president’s kitty, in which he will be in full control of government spending priorities without requiring congressional confirmation,” Mr. Ridon said.