In a one page document dated Monday (September 26), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called the House of Representatives for the immediate enactment of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
He says that the urgent passage has to be done “to address the need to maintain continuous government operations following the end of the current fiscal year, strengthen efforts to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic, and support initiatives towards national economic recovery.”
Normally, bills go through three readings across different days. When a bill is classified urgent, approvals on the second and third readings can happen on the same day. It is currently being deliberated in plenary.
“We are right on track with our schedule,” House Speaker Martin Romualdez said. “The certification from Malacañang will enable the House of Representatives to approve the 2023 GAB on second and third reading on the same day which we set on Wednesday.”
The House targets its approval on Wednesday, September 28.
But some items on the bill sparked controversy among lawmakers and civil society alike. For instance the University of the Philippines (UP), based on the National Expenditure Program (NEP), is bound to get a P2.54 billion budget cut, also affecting the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) that might get P893 million lower than its current budget.
There are also talks on President Marcos’ and Vice President Sara Duterte’s confidential funds. Marcos Jr.’s office is asking for P4.5 billion for confidential and intelligence expenses, while Duterte asks for P500 million in confidential funds. And while the Department of Education (DepEd) under Duterte has a P150 million confidential fund allotment in the NEP, there is no money for the Special Education (SPED) program.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel went as far as calling the P500 million confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) as a pork barrel “masquerading as good governance projects.”
“Good governance highly depends on principles of accountability and transparency. Mahirap po na makapagsabi na tayo ay for good governance kung malaking part ng pondo natin ay nakakubli (It’s hard to say that we are for good governance is a large part of our funds is hidden),” Manuel said.
Mark Ernest Famatigan is a news writer who focuses on Philippine politics. He is an advocate for press freedom and regularly follows developments in the Philippine economy. The views expressed are his own.
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