Metro Manila, Philippines— Both houses of Congress on Monday gave the green light to the bicameral conference committee report on the ₱5.268-trillion national budget for 2023.

The budget measure is now up for signing into law by the President.

The final version, ratified separately by the Senate and the lower chamber, restored several controversial provisions, including the Department of Education’s (DepEd) ₱150-million confidential fund (CIF) and the ₱10-billion funding for the government’s anti-communist task force.

The amended appropriations also included the ₱12-billion increase for the budget of the House of Representatives, giving it a total allocation of ₱28.8 billion for next year.

According to Senate finance panel chairperson Sonny Angara, the increased House budget included funding for the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) program, fuel subsidies for public transportation vehicle drivers, the Sustainable Livelihood Program, health care workers benefits, and Protective Services for Individuals and Families in Difficult Circumstances.

Senate finance panel vice chairperson Grace Poe called the provisions “pro-people.”

‘No independence’

Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel and opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros voted against its approval.

Hontiveros said that in restoring DepEd’s confidential fund and removing the transparency clause, Congress failed to show its independence and power of the purse.

Tila naging mapurol at pudpud ang proteksyong binigay sa pondo ng bayan [It seems the protection given to the nation’s budget is dull and worn] by granting in full all the requests for confidential and intelligence funds under the Marcos-Duterte administration,” Hontiveros said.

Nakakapanghinayang po na sa unang budget ng administrasyon [It’s disappointng that in the administration’s first budget], Congress has shown its malleability to the whims of the administration,” she added.

Pimentel also questioned the CIFs and other issues in a lengthy interpellation during Monday’s plenary session.

Angara said bicam members agreed to retain some ₱67-million worth of realignments from the CIFs of various agencies.

Angara said there was “give and take” as the CIFs of other agencies — DFA (₱5 million), DOJ (₱19 million), DSWD (₱2 million), executive offices (₱6 million), and Office of the Ombudsman (₱20 million) — were slashed while that of the DepEd was restored.

In removing the provision ordering work plans and transparency reports to Congress, Angara said House lawmakers cited then President Rodrigo Duterte’s veto message in 2021, where he said the utilization of intelligence funds should be confidential and made known only to the chief executive.

But Pimentel said Congress should have left it to the new president to exercise his veto power.

Meanwhile, Senate President Migz Zubiri assured the minority that the oversight committee will monitor the use of the CIFs.

“This year, we watch, we wait, we get them accountable for the funds and next year we can do the budget deliberation once again armed with that knowledge if that was really, truly well spent for the Filipino people,” Zubiri said.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in September certified the national budget as urgent, citing the need to “strengthen efforts” against COVID-19 and “support initiatives towards national economic recovery.”