The bicameral conference committee meetings on the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023 will kick off today at the Manila Polo Club in Makati.
With no negative vote, the Senate approved on the third and final reading House Bill 4488 or the proposed budget for next year.
The Senate bicam panel will be composed of Senate Finance Committee chairperson Sen. Sonny Angara as chair; Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda; Senators Pia Cayetano and Imee Marcos, senior vice chairpersons;
Senators Cynthia Villar, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Win Gatchalian, Bong Go, Risa Hontiveros Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Francis Tolentino, Mark Villar, and JV Ejercito, vice chairpersons; and Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, and Jinggoy Estrada, members.
Angara said disagreeing provisions of the recommended budget or the General Appropriation Act (GAA), separately approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives, will be reconciled during the meeting.
The House contingent will be led by Rep. Elizaldy Co, chair of the House committee on appropriations.
Just like the past Congress, Angara noted that only the opening and closing ceremonies of the bicam will be opened to the public and the media.
The Senate Minority Bloc said it will closely scrutinize the national budget, particularly the more than P9 billion confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs).
Cayetano said he vowed to dig deeper into the lump sum and double insertions in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH). He strongly criticized the government agency for having more repairs than building infrastructure projects.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said he hopes the CIF can be transferred to other government agencies. Pimentel cited the need to tackle the confidential funds in the bicam meeting if the House of Representatives panel can be convinced.
He noted that the budget version of the House does not contain the stashed CIF contrary to the Senate version. Pimentel said he also expects the debates to be heated during the discussions.
The approved national budget maintained the P500 million confidential fund of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the now P30 million (from P150 million confidential fund) of the Department of Education (DepEd), both led by Vice President Sara Duterte.
Meanwhile, Congress will use a “work plan” as a basis for the use of the CIF. Pimentel and Sen. Risa Hontiveros recommended that all agencies with CIF should be obligated to submit a work plan to determine how funds were used.
Pimentel proposed that in the next budget cycle, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should make the work plan a requirement.