By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

PHILIPPINE lawmakers on Thursday said they are unlikely to restore the confidential funds sought by civilian agencies in the P5.768-trillion 2024 national budget as Congress reconciles the House of Representatives and Senate versions of the spending bill.

“I don’t think so,” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said about the chances of restoring confidential funds when asked by reporters on the sidelines of the Bicameral Conference Committee hearing finalizing the 2024 spending measure in Makati City.

But he did acknowledge that with regard to confidential funds for civilian agencies, “what is being talked about” at the bicam is the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

He said lawmakers will consult Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares, who sponsored the DICT’s budget, whether or not the bicameral committee will make an exception since the department needs it to boost the country’s cybersecurity programs.

Still, Mr. Angara clarified: “By and large, the Senate adopted what the House did in realigning the (confidential and intelligence) funds of civilian agencies.”

Following plenary debates on the DICT’s budget for next year, the Senate approved the proposed P9.9-billion budget which included P280 million as confidential fund. But Poe-Llamanzares explained that the fund was transferred into its regular line item in order to be subjected to Commission on Audit (COA) scrutiny.

Defending this decision, Mr. Angara said: “Sometimes the war is not on the battlefield, but someone can disable your cybernetworks, information… and our economy would come to a halt.”

When asked about the most contentious provisions in the House and Senate versions of the budget bill, Mr. Angara confirmed that “there are a lot.”

“Sometimes the same funds that are being realigned or moved… we need to discuss what to agree on,” he said in Filipino without going into detail.

Party-list Rep. Elizaldy S. Co, who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations, said lawmakers are talking over when they can finish reconciling disagreeing provisions in next year’s P5.77-trillion spending plan.

Mr. Angara said lawmakers hope to end before Congress adjourns on Dec. 15 and before President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s trip to Japan this month.

The President is set to attend the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Japan Friendship and Cooperation Commemorative Summit.

“We want to be prepared for next year; (ensure the delivery of) social services, we want to fight inflation, (address) rice prices to help lower middle class and poor Filipinos, since problems such as war and inflation may worsen next year,” he said in Filipino.

Last Tuesday, the Senate approved on final reading its version of the budget bill with Mr. Angara highlighting the budget boost for defense agencies to ensure national security.

Vice-President and Education Secretary Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio said her office would no longer pursue its request for P500 million in confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) next year “because it is seen to be divisive.”