CONGRESS on Monday ratified the Bicameral Conference Committee report on the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget for next year, with leaders hoping it will be signed into law by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. before the Christmas break. 

Under the consolidated version of the 2023 national budget, the Bicameral Conference Committee restored the confidential and intelligence funds of the Department of Education (DepEd), among other things. 

“It was returned but for the other agencies whose funds were reduced, it was no longer returned,” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the Senate Committee on Finance, told a press conference in Filipino. A copy of the recording was provided to reporters.

The Senate earlier slashed the DepEd’s P150-million confidential and intelligence fund to P30 million, moving it to the agency’s maintenance and operating expenses.

Marikina Rep. Elizaldy S. Co, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was the House contingent’s decision to restore the DepEd’s confidential funds, adding the DepEd should “secure the future of our children.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III said he was disappointed with the bicam panel’s decision to restore the confidential funds of the DepEd.

During the period of amendments, he had proposed to scrap the confidential budgets of the Office of Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio and the DepEd, which she leads.

Meanwhile, Mr. Angara said the budget for the education sector was also increased to P900.9 billion under the bicameral report, from the Senate’s proposal of P884.6 billion.

The bicameral panel also restored the budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to P10 billion after the Senate reduced it to P5 billion.

“What they said is that they need that budget, so we respected the wishes of the agency,” Mr. Angara said.

The bicameral panel also raised the infrastructure budget, as well as the allocations for the Department of Justice (DoJ), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Judiciary, Mr. Angara said, without giving details.

The budget of the Energy Regulatory Commission was also increased by P453.11 million to support its operations and capital outlay, he said in plenary.

“For those (budgets) that were decreased, the special funds were slightly cut. The budget for other foreign-assisted projects, we put under programmed funds because under the unprogrammed fund, if there is foreign funding, once the loan has materialized, it can already be funded,” he added.

The senator said the final version of the 2023 national budget leaned more towards the House version, but said the deliberations were “fair.”

The reconciled version of the budget also increased funding for targeted financial assistance, the aid for people in crisis situations, free tuition and assistance to poor patients in government hospitals, among others.

Mr. Co said that an additional P10 billion was given to the Department of Public Works and Highways to address delays in project implementation and to repair school buildings and bridges.

The national budget includes funding for COVID-19 vaccination procurement worth P3.5 billion under unprogrammed appropriations, but lawmakers said the Health department would be given leeway to use the funds for other illnesses if necessary.

Mr. Angara said they hope the president would sign the 2023 national budget bill into law before Congress goes on a holiday break on Dec. 17.

“It looks to be on schedule before Christmas. The only issue is that the President is leaving, so we don’t know if it will reach him before he leaves for Europe or when he returns,” he said.

Mr. Marcos is scheduled to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union Summit in Brussels on Dec. 14. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan