The House of Representatives (HOR) realigned P77.5 billion to add to the allotments for education, health, and transportation among others that House Speaker Martin Romualdez referred as “institutional amendments.”
Because the budget ceiling of P5.268 trillion can no longer be changed, the P77.5 billion were taken from what House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Elizaldy Co referred as programs and projects that could get allocations in the succeeding years. The committee endeavored to “free up appropriations from agencies whose funds are unlikely to be fully utilized within 2023, based on historical performance or specific circumstances of their spending program.” This included the P50 billion deducted from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for the Metro Manila Subway Project and North-South Railway Commuter.
The committee did not say if any of the realignments came from the assailed P588.16 billion unprogrammed funds on top of the budget total, the lump sum funds that the president will control and that progressive lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc have dubbed as “Marcosian pork”, the P4.5 billion confidential funds of the president or the P650 million confidential expenses of the vice president.
After the HOR passed the 2023 National Expenditure Program submitted by the Department of Budget and Management on the third and final reading on September 28 as the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or House Bill (HB) 4488, the Small Committee formed to look at further amendments to the bill met and announced in a press statement on October 5 the realignment of P77.5 billion funds.
Noteworthy among the changes were:
- Some budget increases instead of budget cuts for education, health and social services
- Increase in P20.25 billion for the various programs of the Department of Health, including P500 million each for Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute and Philippine Children’s Medical Center Health that were supposed to suffer heavy budget cuts from P54 million to P360 million.
- Additional P5 billion for the Tulong Dunong Program of Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and P 5 billion Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will offset initial budget cuts of P2.1 billion and P310 million respectively.
- Additional P12.5 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development will mean a P4.5-billion increase from 2022, instead of the initial P8-billion budget cut
- Other additions:
- P10 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for water systems in upland barangays. This will also mean a smaller budget cut (P58.2 billion) for DPWH
- P1.5 bilyon para sa national broadband project ng Department of Information and Communications Technology
- P500 million for the new building of the Commission on Elections
- P250 million for the Department of Trade and Industry to assist the creative industry pursuant to Republic Act 11904
- P150 million for the Energy Regulatory Commission
- P147 million for the Office of the Solicitor General
- Some items that initially did not get allocations were given funding:
|No allocation as of September 28||Allotted funding from the P77.5 billion realigned funds|
|P1 billion for health workers’ Special Risk Allowance (SRA) amid the COVID-19 pandemic||P 5 billion for allowances of health care and non-health care workers and frontliners|
|P500 million aid for cancer patients||P250 million for Cancer Assistance Program|
|P532 million for Special Education||P581 million for Special Education programs under DepEd|
|Sitio Electrification project||P 50 million for Sitio Electrification project of the National Electrification Administration|
|Libreng Pasahe and Pantawid Pasada||P5.5 billion for fuel subsidy program, Libreng Sakay at bike lane construction under DOTr|
- Several items that were flagged to have not gotten any allocations in the 2023 proposed budget still did not get funding. This includes the request to increase the salaries of workers in the public sectors, esp. teachers and health workers and the construction of Freedom Memorial Museum to recognize the sacrifices and heroism of Martial Law victims.
- The budget of the Department of Education under Vice President Sara Duterte—initially the only agency in the education sector that got a budget increase—again increased with the allocation for Special Education and the P10 billiion for school buildings/classrooms.
- The budget of the Philippine National Police (PNP) again increased with the P300 million added for training of law enforcement officers. This will also mean a P1.1 billion total increase in the PNP budget from 2002.
- Some of those who were given a share from the P77.5 billion realigned funds still suffered budget cuts from 2022, like the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and aid for workers. This could mean that with the P500 million added funds, the PGH budget cut is now down to P393.6 million from P893.6 million. Likewise, as the PGH budget is under the UP system, the initial budget cut to UP of P2.5 billion is now down to P2 billion and for SUCs, the budget cut of P10.6 billion will go down to P10.1 billion.
- The additional P5 billion for livelihood at emergency employment programs ng Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will lessen the 2023 budget cuts for Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged or Displaced Workers Program or TUPAD (P10.99 billion), Adjustment Measures Program (P174 million) and Overseas Filipino Workers Program (P1.5 billion). this will also mean a smaller budget cut (P6.04 billion) for DOLE.
- Budget cuts for other social services remain even after the fund realignment, such as that for the housing sector
On October 10, Makabayan bloc lawmakers—the only three dissenting votes to the 2023 GAB or HB 4488—welcomed the realignment of P77.5 billion in funds, but said that it is not enough.
Some of the additional funding given to various agencies or items were bigger than the requests they put forward—such as that for Special Education and CHEd’s Tulong Dunong program.
Other Makabayan suggestions were granted but given smaller funding, such as the subsidies for unemployed individuals and other vulnerable sectors for which they requested P124 billion but only got P15 billion and P56 billion budget for allowances for healthcare and non-healthcare workers and frontliners that got only an additional P5 billion.
“We view these amendments in totality as a positive development, pero maliit at kulang pa rin [but they are small and not enough],” House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro and ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro said.
The group also welcomed the reduction of the budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“We welcome that the fund of NTF-ELCAC has been reduced to P5 billion [from P10 billion], but we still want this defunded and have the fund realigned to other social service programs,” said House Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Women’s Partylist Arlene Brosas.
The NTF-ELCAC, since former President Rodrigo Duterte formed the body under the Office of the President in 2017 through Executive Order 70, has enjoyed billions in funding higher than some agencies such as the whole housing sector despite not being an actual agency and despite needing to still report on its utilization of government funds. The task force has been severely criticized for continuing to red-tag critics and opposition figures, including activists, lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc, judges and lawyers, journalists and even senators.