DepEd to keep its P150-million intel funds in 2023 budget | Inquirer News

DepEd to keep its P150-million intel funds in 2023 budget

Elizaldy Co and Sonny Angara. STORY: DepEd to keep its P150-million intel funds in 2023 budget

Rep. Elizaldy Co and Sen. Sonny Angara (Co’s photo from his Facebook account. Angara’s photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers on Monday approved the final version of the P5.268-trillion proposed budget for 2023, leaving intact the controversial P9.3 billion in confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) of various offices by restoring the P150-million CIF of the Department of Education (DepEd) that the Senate earlier realigned to the agency’s healthy learners program.

Of the CIFs in next year’s budget, P4.5 billion is set to go to the Office of the President and P500 million to the Office of the Vice President.

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House appropriations panel chair Rep. Elizaldy Co said the lower chamber’s representatives to the bicameral conference committee agreed to restore DepEd’s CIF to “secure the future of our children.”

“That’s the decision of the House because it would be more difficult if our children are recruited and led to the wrong path. So we want the DepEd to spearhead, we want them to secure the future of our children,” Co said.

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Vice President Sara Duterte, who is the concurrent DepEd secretary, earlier defended her request for confidential funds, saying that it would be used to address the issues in the education agency such as sexual abuse, students’ involvement in illegal drugs, recruitment to insurgency, terrorism and violent extremism, among others.

“The threats to the learning environment, safety, and security of DepEd personnel are interlocking with the mandate of support to the national security of civilian offices,” Duterte said.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) criticized the bicameral committee’s decision to restore the CIFs of DepEd.

“It is frustrating that after months of fighting to instill some semblance of uprightness in how the taxpayer money should be spent, all the efforts of stakeholders and conscientious lawmakers were thrown out the window,” Vladimer Quetua, ACT chair, said in a statement on Monday.

‘Last-minute’ insertions

The House of Representatives and the Senate ratified during their respective Monday night’s plenary session the reconciled version of the 2023 national budget as contained in the approved bicameral conference committee report.

The final budget version slashed P221.5 billion from various agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of National Defense (DND) but increased the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) by as much as P115 billion.

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate committee on finance, said the DPWH received a “significant across-the-board increase” for its various programs and projects that include road widening, paving of dirt roads, construction of diversion roads, missing road links, flyovers, interchanges, and underpasses.

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Co said more funds were added to the Libreng Sakay program, the bike lanes program, and the construction of specialized hospitals all over the country.

“We’ve been receiving complaints about delays in implementation so we put an additional P10 billion for the repair of school buildings and bridges,” he said.

The variance between the final amounts contained in the bicameral report on House Bill No. 4488, or the General Appropriations Bill of 2023, from the Senate-approved version, caught the attention of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.

In his interpellation on the report of Angara, Pimentel questioned why the enrolled bill contained “last-minute” insertions, which sprang only in the bicameral deliberations and escaped scrutiny by senators.

“Is this being consciously done? It’s a pity these things did not come out during budget deliberations which could have allowed us to discuss them better,” he said.

“So it seems like the bicam is now acting like a third House,” he said.

In his sponsorship speech, Angara said the bicameral conference committee made sure that the 2023 budget could support the programs of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Final realignments

A summary of the bicameral conference report on the budget showed that the DSWD suffered a cut of at least P10.2 billion, mainly under the office of the secretary.

Among the agencies, the DND suffered the biggest reduction of P25.7 billion, including P27.8 billion from the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Headquarters.

The bicameral panel also slashed the budget of the Department of Transportation by P17 billion.

The other agencies that suffered decreased allotments after the bicameral committee meeting included the departments of agrarian reform, P4.53 billion; labor and employment, P2.5 billion (including P2.3 billion from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority); finance, P991.5 million; health, P871.4 million; agriculture, P857.8 million; information and communications technology, P442 million; and trade and industry, P450 million, as well as the Commission on Higher Education, P4.1 billion.

Pimentel said he was apprehensive that the bicameral version slashed most of the funding items that were already increased by the Senate.

“Will these cuts not affect the programs of the departments?” he asked.

The two chambers of Congress got a P13.3-billion increase, with the House of Representatives receiving P12 billion more and the Senate adding P934 million to its 2023 budget.

Pimentel also questioned the increases in the budget of the country’s state universities and colleges (SUCs), which received P13.2 billion more in the bicameral version of the budget, items which were never discussed in the Senate plenary.

Angara said most of the insertions in the SUC budgets were introduced by the members of the House of Representatives.

—WITH A REPORT FROM JANE BAUTISTA

RELATED STORIES

Pimentel ‘disappointed’ with restoration of P150 million DepEd confidential, intel funds

Public must join outrage over intel funds – Pimentel

Angara defends Marcos office’s intel funds: President needs reliable info to maintain order

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