P588-B unmarked funds ‘need details’

There is a hidden P588 billion in unprogrammed funds that are not included in the National Expenditure Program for 2023 that needs proper disclosure.

House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said the 2023 budget proposal that Malacañang submitted to Congress is actually P5.856 trillion, or P588 billion more than the P5.268 trillion based on the programmed spending.

“The amount asked by the Palace is actually half-a-trillion pesos more,” he said.

The solon made this revelation after the budget deliberation on the House Committee on Appropriations officially started on Friday.

“It is more than double the current year’s P251.7 billion unprogrammed fund,” he said.

Recto described the undeclared items as “shades of grey,” emphasizing that they must be fleshed out and rendered “in black and white.”

The lawmaker claimed that P380.6 billion in “unclear and undefined” appropriations were primarily designated for “Support to Foreign Assisted Projects” and P149.7 billion for “Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs,” respectively.

“Funding footprint is very huge but contained only one line. It is a blank check request,” he affirmed.

He underscored that unprogrammed funds were one of the NEP’s biggest “lump sums” that the Department of Budget and Management had turned over to Congress.

“While it is part of the NEP, the unprogrammed funds are not included in the total amount. The result is every popular budget literature nowadays quotes a smaller budget level,” Recto said.

He explained that although several “funding triggers” must be satisfied for the Unprogrammed Appropriations to be released, the national budget’s approval grants the power to use it.

“Thus P5.856 trillion is the ceiling of the proposed 2023 budget,” Recto said. “Once the latter becomes law, it confers standby authority to the executive to spend it, provided conditions are met.”

Revenue trigger points

The proposed budget for 2023 specifies that the unprogrammed fund can only be used if revenue goals are surpassed or when loans have been finalized, just like in prior general appropriations acts.

“But the problem is, there seems to be lax compliance on this. In 2020, for example, when revenue collections were down because of the pandemic, every centavo of the P122 billion in unprogrammed appropriations was released,” Recto stressed.

“That is also expected for the appropriations this year as P251.6 billion of unprogrammed funds were used,” Recto said, adding that the DBM should begin publicizing information about releases from the fund on its website.

The lawmaker mentioned the “good and beneficial” recipients in the 10-item unprogrammed appropriations that he supported, even though he questioned some allocations for various programs.

“Some P18.9 billion in public health emergency benefits for frontliners is good and so is the paltry P14.6 million for LGU arrears,” he said.

“P5 billion in AFP modernization, in principle, is good, but in the interest of transparency, these must be itemized. The P2 billion in arrears to the IT provider of the Land Transportation Office must also be scrutinized,” he furthered.

Several House leaders, including Speaker Martin Romualdez earlier, vowed that the lower chamber would pass the national budget on the third and final reading before the 19th Congress goes on its first recess.

According to Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo, senior vice chairperson of the committee on appropriations, the panel chaired by Ako Bicol Partylist Rep. Zaldy Co is aiming to finish its hearings by 16 September, which she said would give the House two weeks for plenary discussions and approval of the proposed 2023 budget.

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