THE PHILIPPINE SENATE on Tuesday approved on final reading its version of the bill on the proposed P5.768-trillion national budget, as senators focused on boosting the budgets of defense agencies to ensure national security.

In a 21-0-1 vote, senators approved the appropriation measure, which was certified as urgent, on second and third reading on the same day.

The proposed 2024 national budget is 9.5% higher than this year’s budget, and is equivalent to 21.7% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the Senate’s version would significantly increase the allocations for the Department of National Defense, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine Coast Guard to bolster national security, amid worsening tensions with China. He did not provide details.

“More funds were included in the budgets of the Philippine Army, Air Force, Navy and the General Headquarters to purchase much-needed equipment, set up the needed infrastructure, and conduct the necessary capability enhancements and trainings and the Philippine Coast Guard,” he said.

Senators increased the Department of Science and Technology’s budget by P1 billion and gave the Department of Education (DepEd) an additional P50 million to boost local mental health programs in schools, Mr. Angara said.

He added that senators approved a request from the National Economic and Development Authority to establish an innovations revolving fund to provide grants for innovation programs and projects.

Representatives from the Senate and the House will now meet in a Bicameral Conference Committee to reconcile conflicting provisions of their respective budget bills.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said Mr. Marcos is likely to sign the 2024 national budget before he leaves for Japan in mid-December.

Mr. Marcos will be in Japan to attend the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Japan Friendship and Cooperation Commemorative Summit.

During Tuesday’s plenary session, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III abstained from voting noting that he disapproved of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s certification of the measure as urgent.

“I will not object anymore. I will just make a manifestation of my continuing objection to the use of a presidential certification for the budget when I do not see any emergency or calamity right before us, which will be addressed by the certification,” he said.

In September, he urged Mr. Marcos not to overuse the power to certify bills as urgent and to reserve the exercise of it for times of calamity.

Mr. Angara did not mention augmentations to the confidential and intelligence funds of state agencies.

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

She also said that DepEd would forgo its request for P150 million in confidential funds next year, asking senators to realign the amount to the country’s learning recovery program, which includes capacity training programs for teachers among others.

Congressmen last month stripped several agencies including the Office of the Vice-President of their confidential funds, transferring P1.23 billion worth of these to security agencies. — JVDO