House approves P5.768 trillion 2024 national budget with emphasis on transparency, accountability

AFTER extensive deliberations and negotiations, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on third and final reading the P5.768-trillion national budget for next year, just before Congress adjourns for a month-long break.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez lauded the timely passage of the 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), stating that it not only demonstrated the commitment of the House to upholding its constitutional role but also underscored its dedication to serving the Filipino people with transparency and accountability.

The House of Representatives voted 296 against 3 and zero abstentions to approve House Bill (HB) No. 8980 or the 2024 national budget on third and final reading.

In his speech before adjourning the session, Speaker Romualdez stressed the House’s steadfast commitment to fulfilling its constitutional duty of overseeing the national expenditure program with the highest levels of transparency and diligence.

The leader of the 311-strong legislative chamber noted that the budgeting process was marked by rigorous discussions, particularly concerning confidential and intelligence funds, which the House meticulously scrutinized to ensure accountability and responsible utilization.

“We underscored the need for agencies to abide by the strict accounting and auditing rules governing the handling and release of such funds and emphasized the need to safeguard its efficient and responsible utilization,” Speaker Romualdez said.

“As a result, the House was able to assess and evaluate the nature and use of these funds and correct any mix-ups and allay public concerns regarding this issue,” he added.

Earlier, the House leadership decided to reallocate confidential and intelligence funds, originally designated for non-security departments, to bolster security efforts in the West Philippine Sea.

A significant portion of these funds will now support the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Security Council (NSC), organizations responsible for intelligence activities and national security coordination, respectively.

Additionally, the 2024 budgets for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be increased to enhance surveillance capabilities in the West Philippine Sea.

This decision was jointly announced by leaders of political parties, including

Rizal 1st District Rep. Michael John R. Duavit, president, Nationalist People’s Coalition; Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Jose “Joboy” S. Aquino II, secretary general, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats; Romblon Rep Eleandro Jesus “Budoy” Madrona of the Nacionalista Party; Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny T. Pimentel, vice president for Mindanao, PDP-Laban; Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, president, National Unity Party; and Barangay Health & Wellness (BHW) Partylist Rep. Angelica Natasha Co, representing Partylist Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI), in response to recent incidents in the region.

Meanwhile, Speaker Romualdez said the approval of the 2024 GAB stands as a testament to the House’s commitment to the welfare of the Filipino people and their enduring pursuit of a more prosperous and equitable nation.

“Sa pagpasa natin ang 2024 [GAB], naging gabay ang mithiin natin na mabigyan ng ginhawa ang buhay ng ating mamamayan,” the Speaker stressed.

“Tiwala ako na hindi lamang makakatulong ang ipinasa nating budget para mapabuti ang kalagayan ng mga Pilipino. Susi rin ito para mag-tuloy-tuloy ang ating pagbangon tungo sa mas magandang kinabukasan.”

The Speaker expressed confidence that every centavo in the national budget aligns with the administration’s medium-term fiscal framework, the 8-point socioeconomic agenda, and the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028, reflecting the overarching goals of economic transformation towards inclusivity and sustainability.

Speaker Romualdez also extended his gratitude to his fellow legislators, especially members of the minority bloc, for their diligent efforts and collaborative spirit in reaching this significant milestone.

“I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the members of the minority bloc, without which we would not have been able to evaluate, scrutinize, and dissect the national budget and disentangle a number of legislative intricacies that challenge this august chamber every session day. What the minority bloc puts forth unto the process of lawmaking is truly essential and valued,” the Speaker said.

The proposed 2024 national budget is 9.5 percent higher than this year’s budget of P5.267 trillion, and is equivalent to 21.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The education sector receives the largest allocation at P924.7 billion, including funds for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education program, textbooks, and feeding programs. The Department of Education sees a 5.37 percent increase to P758.6 billion.

Infrastructure priorities include the North-South Commuter Railway System and Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1. The Department of Public Works and Highways gets P822.2 billion with allocations for road improvement. The Department of Transportation’s budget doubles to P214.3 billion, focusing on mass transport and rail systems.

Agriculture receives P181.4 billion, supporting rice, corn, and high-value crops production. The Department of Health gets P306.1 billion, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development sees a 5.2 percent increase to P209.9 billion. The Department of National Defense’s budget rises by 14.16 percent to P232.2 billion.