By Diego Gabriel C. Robles

THE MARCOS administration proposed to increase the allocations for education, health, agriculture, and infrastructure under the P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023, while lowering allotments for other priority sectors such as social protection.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) submitted to Congress on Monday the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for fiscal year 2023, which is the first full-year budget proposed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

The P5.268-trillion budget is 4.9% higher than this year’s budget, and equivalent to 22.2% of gross domestic product (GDP).

2023 Proposed National Government budget“This budget reflects the Agenda for Prosperity: economic transformation towards inclusivity and sustainability. As first budgets go, this proposed budget for next fiscal year represents a 75.5% growth from the P3.002-trillion budget in 2016,” Mr. Marcos said in his budget message.

The education sector, as mandated by the Constitution, received the biggest budget at P852.8 billion, an 8.2% increase from this year’s P788.5-billion allocation. This includes the funds allotted for the Department of Education (DepEd), State Universities and Colleges (SUC), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The proposed DepEd budget is at P710.66 billion, up by 19.9% from the previous year. It is the second-highest budget among departments, following the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

“With the DepEd’s allocation, we hope to finally resume face-to-face classes to ensure holistic learning,” Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said on Monday.

According to the DBM, P54.9 billion will go to education assistance and subsidies, while P47.4 billion will be earmarked for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Program.

Meanwhile, allocations for flexible learning options and basic education facilities were accorded P19.4 billion and P9.8 billion, respectively.

Ms. Pangandaman said the proposed budget of the agriculture sector stood at P184.1 billion, 39% up from P132.2 billion this year. Broken down, the Department of Agriculture will get a P102.16-billion budget, up 49% from a year ago, while the Department of Agrarian Reform will receive P15.85 billion, 58% higher than this year’s allocation.

Under the administration’s food security initiative, the National Rice Program will receive P30.5 billion. Irrigation services, as well as the construction and development of farm-to-market roads, will be given P29.5 billion and 13.1 billion, respectively.

“This is in line with the President’s directive that top priority must be given to the agriculture sector so as to invigorate and transform this sector from being an economic laggard to one of the main drivers for growth and employment,” DBM said in a statement, citing an anticipated global food crisis.

The health sector will see a 10.4% rise in next year’s budget to P296.3 billion. The Department of Health (DoH) will see 6.6% increase to P196.08 billion, while the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. will get a P100.23-billion budget.

“The Universal Health Care program will continuously be a budget priority to ensure accessible healthcare for Filipinos, especially those in the lower stratum of society,” Ms. Pangandaman said.

Under next year’s proposed budget, infrastructure spending is set at P1.196 trillion, 1.54% up from P1.178 trillion in the 2022 program.

The DPWH received the biggest budget among departments with P718.36 billion, but this is 8.6% lower than this year’s allocation.

On the other hand, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) saw a 122% increase in next year’s budget to P167.12 billion. This covers the augmented funding requirements for various foreign-assisted railway projects, according to the DBM.

“President Marcos earlier said that this administration shall continue to implement infrastructure projects and refocus to ‘Build, Better, More.’ These projects — subway, regional airports, railways and farm-to-market roads — will surely benefit the Filipino people,” Ms. Pangandaman said.

Under the infrastructure program, P140.4 billion will be allotted for the Network Development Program, P88.5 billion for the Asset Preservation Program, and P38 billion for the Bridge program.

This also includes funding for priority projects such as the North-South Commuter Railway, the Metro Manila Subway Phase 1, the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1) Cavite Extension, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul, the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) rehabilitation program, the Land Public Transportation program, the EDSA Busway project, the EDSA Greenways project, the Cebu BRT project, as well as the fuel subsidy program for public transport drivers.

Zyza Nadine Suzara, a public finance expert and executive director of I-Lead, said there needs to be a closer look into which departments received the “avalanche in funding.”

“The avalanche in funding will give us an indication of what the real priorities of the administration [are], and what the succeeding budgets of the Marcos administration will look like,” she said.

The Marcos administration earlier said it will allocate 5-6% of gross domestic product (GDP) annually for infrastructure.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had the third highest budget with P253.05 billion, 1.4% higher than this year’s allocation.

In its efforts to help local governments, the administration proposed to allocate P28.9 billion for the Local Government Support Fund, composed of P13.9 billion for the Growth Equity Fund and P10 billion to support the Barangay Development Program of the National Task Force to End Local Communists Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“Apart from National Government programs, funding support for local government units appears to be a priority for the administration,” Ms. Suzara said.

However, “the P10-billion proposed budget for the controversial NTF-ELCAC sticks out like a sore thumb in the 2023 National Expenditure program. This should likewise be watched closely,” she added.

The Department of National Defense will see a 9.2% increase in its budget to P240.7 billion.

However, the allocations for the Department of Social Welfare and Development slipped 3.8% to P197.03 billion next year.

This contains P115.6 billion for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps); P25.3 billion for the Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens; P19.9 billion for Protective Services for Individuals and Families in Difficult Circumstances; and P4.4 billion for the Sustainable Livelihood program.

The budget for the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) declined 48.3% to P26.23 billion next year.

Most of the DoLE’s proposed budget is for its Livelihood and Emergency Employment program, earmarked for P18.4 billion. This includes the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) with P14.9 billion and the DoLE Integrated Livelihood Program with P2.5 billion.

“At the national level, the 2023 National Expenditure Plan seems to contain a lot of the old existing programs of various departments and agencies. Based on the press conference, there are incremental adjustments in funding levels like the 4Ps program and those meant to support education, social services and public health. The public should scrutinize these allocations,” Ms. Suzara said.

Most of next year’s proposed budget will still go to social services at P2.071 trillion (39.31%) and economic services at P1.528 trillion (29.01%).

The rest of the proposed budget is allocated to general public services at P807.2 billion (15.32%); debt burden, including net lending, at P611 billion (11.59%); and defense at P250.7 billion (4.76%).

The revenue program for 2023 is at P3.63 trillion or equivalent to 15.3% of GDP. The rest of the proposed budget will be sourced from other nontax revenues, privatization, and deficit financing through debt.

The administration’s goal is to achieve 6.5-8% GDP growth next year until 2028, as well as reduce the poverty rate to a single digit by the end of its term.

“We look forward to a close coordination with [the] House of Representatives and the Senate. We expect that the budget will be forwarded to Malacañang by [the] first or second week of December,” Ms. Pangandaman said.

Leaders of the House of Representatives promised to finish the committee and plenary deliberations on the budget by Oct. 1, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said.

Congress is scheduled to go on its first recess on Oct. 1. Session will resume on Nov. 7.

“We will make sure that every centavo will be spent wisely to implement programs that would save lives, protect communities and make our economy strong and more agile,” Mr. Romualdez said during the submission of the NEP for fiscal year 2023 on Monday.

Marikina Rep. Stella A. Quimbo, senior vice-chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, said hearings with start on Aug. 26 with the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC).

“(The budget hearings) will run all the way down to Sept. 16, and then by Sept. 21, we should be ready for plenary debates,” Ms. Quimbo said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and AKO-BICOL Party-list Rep. Elizaldy S. Co said pre-budget deliberations started last week so departments can address parochial concerns of lawmakers.

“Next year we plan to have it earlier, (We will) start around February and March to coordinate before the (NEP) is submitted to Congress,” Mr. Co said. “We want everyone in the Congress to be actively collaborating.”

Minority leader and Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program Part-list Rep. Marcelino C. Libanan said that the minority will do its part in scrutinizing the budget during the plenary sessions.

“We will show the side of the minority, the voice of the people, but we will not be obstructionist but rather we’ll be a constructive minority because we are only one house,” Mr. Libanan said. — with Matthew Carl L. Montecillo