A pro-poor, inclusive national budget

A recent World Bank study said the world will teeter on the brink of a 2023 recession as central banks worldwide hike interest rates to curb inflation.

Social protection remains at the heart of the Marcos administration’s ‘prosperity agenda’ for 2023 and onwards. The government is ramping up efforts to insulate the poor and marginalized from the debilitating impacts of global inflation. That as much as possible, there will be no Filipino left behind in the country’s quest for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

None is more evident than the proposed national budget for the next fiscal year, which appropriated P206.5 billion in ayuda (subsidies and cash assistance) for the country’s most vulnerable sectors.

I am glad that the government is duty-bound to protect our countrymen from the escalating cost of living, particularly the prices of essentials. Even the cost of relief items for calamity victims has increased. A recent World Bank study said the world will teeter on the brink of a 2023 recession as central banks worldwide hike interest rates to curb inflation.

In October, our inflation rate hit 7.7 percent. As the purchasing power of our currency decreases, it exposes low-income families along with the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, senior citizens, children, and women to great risks.

Increase assistance to the poor and marginalized

It is good news that subsidies are allotted for the social welfare, health, transportation, and agriculture sectors. According to the Office of the Press Secretary, P165 billion is earmarked for the Department of Social Welfare and Development programs. It includes funding for the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program), which grants cash transfers to impoverished households to meet their basic needs.

The Department of Health’s MAIFIP (Medical Assistance to Indigent and Financially-Incapacitated Patients) stands to receive P22.3 billion. At the same time, the Department of Labor’s TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers) will get P14.5 billion. As regards fuel subsidies, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture will be provided P2.5 billion and P1 billion, respectively.

If legislators asked my opinion, I would recommend hefty budgetary increments for TUPAD and fuel subsidies. Allocate P25 billion in subsidies for workers who lost their jobs due to inflation. As the hardest hit by the skyrocketing petroleum cost, the transport and agriculture sectors should receive P10 billion each. Our current budget did not factor in the Ukraine-Russia war, which began in February. The International Monetary Fund revised its 2022 inflation projections for advanced and developing economies because the conflict has induced commodity price increases and pressures globally.

If I may suggest, a portion of the operating budget for the legislature can be reallocated to the “ayuda” for our disadvantaged “kababayans”.

Expedite budget approval

In September, the House of Representatives passed the P5.268 trillion proposed appropriations for the fiscal year 2023. It is 4.9 percent higher than the current budget.

The Senate has to expedite the process of budget approval because there are a few weeks left before both chambers take a Christmas recess. Ideally, the bicameral conference committee must convene on the first week of December. The member senators and congressmen should reconcile both versions of the national budget. Then the report has to be submitted to President Marcos, Jr. for his final review and signature before the year ends.

Should Congress fail to pass the proposed 2023 budget, there will be an automatic reenactment of the preceding fiscal year’s general appropriations law. It will remain in effect until a new appropriations bill is passed by Congress as stipulated under Article 7, Section 25 of our Constitution. I find this problematic because the current budget, in the context of the country’s current short and medium-term economic woes, is insufficient to fund government programs and projects.

Congress should also give PBBM ample time to exercise his constitutional right to approve or nullify budgetary re-allocations or line-item insertions. Section 27 of Article 7 provides: “The President shall have the power to veto any particular item or items in an appropriation, revenue, or tariff bill, but the veto shall not affect the item or items to which he does not object.”

During PRRD’s time, the proposed budget for 2022 was not enacted on time. But he put his foot down on all line-item insertions by the bicameral committee. These insertions were not part of the original budget proposal of the executive branch. Please remember that Congress is only allowed to reallocate (but not increase) the budget proposed by the Executive.

PRRD said there would be no legislative insertions without his approval. As a former legislator and cabinet member, I am aware of the direct link between line-item insertions and “tongpats” (political kickbacks and other types of bribery offered to some lawmakers by unscrupulous parties).

I pray that the President signs the budget for the fiscal year 2023 into law by the end of this year.

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