‘Every centavo will count,’ Romualdez vows

Government technocrats will start defending today the proposed P5.268-trillion 2023 national budget by providing House leaders led by Speaker Martin Romualdez a scorecard on where the country stands economically.

Romualdez, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s cousin and staunch ally, assured the public full transparency in passing a budget that would “effectively respond to the needs of the people, especially in addressing the continued impact of the (Covid-19) health crisis.”

“The budget will be a product of the entire House of Representatives, where the majority will listen to the minority’s concerns,” Romualdez said. “This budget basically represents the hope of the future and the agenda for prosperity in the country this coming 2023.”

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, National Economic and Development chief Arsenio Balisacan and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Felipe Medalla are expected to brief the House on the macroeconomic bases of the Executive department’s National Expenditure Program.

Romualdez hinted that the House, known to hold the “power of the purse” where all government appropriations are submitted, reduced or increased, before being passed on to the Senate for its concurrence, would not blindly pass the Executive’s budget proposal.

Wisely spent

He gave the assurance that “every centavo of the national budget will be spent wisely to implement programs that would save lives, protect communities and make the economy strong and more agile.”

Romualdez said the House will pass the budget on or before 30 September before the 19th Congress goes on its first recess the next day lasting until 6 November.

Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo, the senior vice chairperson of the Committee on Appropriations, said the panel chaired by Ako-Bicol Partylist Rep. Zaldy Co will finish their hearings by 16 September.

She stressed that meeting their target date at the committee level would give the House two weeks for plenary discussions and approval of the proposed 2023 budget.

The bane of past administrations had always been reenacted budgets when the House and the Senate failed to pass the General Appropriations Act.

Under the Duterte administration, the budget for fiscal year 2019 based on the FY 2018 budget was the first reenacted budget in eight years. The Senate cited time constraints in failing to pass the House version of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill.

If passed as is, next year’s outlay would be 4.9 percent or P244 billion higher than the 2022 General Appropriations Act of P5.024 trillion.

The 2023 NEP was, according to its crafters, intended to ensure food security, improve transportation, and provide cleaner and more affordable energy, social services and healthcare.

The proposed budget was also intended to fund safe return to full face-to-face schooling and programs to ensure bureaucratic efficiency and sound fiscal management.

Under the 2023 NEP, the agriculture sector headed by President Marcos was allocated P184.2 billion, or 39.2 percent higher than this year’s budget, to “ensure food security and agricultural productivity.”

Of the P5.268 trillion under the present NEP, P1.2 trillion was allocated for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects under the Marcos administration’s “Build, Better, More” or BBM program.

The infra spending is intended to “propel growth in agriculture, trade, and tourism sectors and eventually reduce transportation and logistics costs.”

The education sector received anew the largest slice of the budget pie at P852.8 billion, while the health sector was allocated P296.3 billion.

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