Amid runaway prices of basic goods and an uncertain economic future, the House of Representatives passed on third and final reading Wednesday night, Sept. 28, the biggest annual spending plan in the country's history.
Hurdling the 311-strong lower chamber was the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), also known as House Bill (HB) No.4488. Worth a record P5.268 trillion, it will be the first full annual budget of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s administration.
Earlier certificated as urgent by Malacañang, HB No.4488 was approved by the House on second reading via voice vote, and then immediately after, on third reading via nominal voting.
The nominal vote result showed 289 "yes" votes against three "no" votes. There were no abstentions among the House members present.
The back-to-back passage of the GAB will also serve as the final acts of the House ahead of its scheduled recess from Oct. 1 to Nov. 6, 2022.
House officials, particularly Speaker Martin Romualdez (Leyte 1st district), Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe (Zamboanga City 2nd district), and House Committee on Appropriations Chaiman Zaldy Co (Ako Bicol Party-list) have repeatedly guaranteed that the proposed 2023 national outlay would be approved before the lenghty break.
The GAB was based on the P5.268-trillion National Expenditure Program (NEP), which the House received from the executive branch last Aug. 22. On that day, the Philippine peso closed at P56.21 against the United States (US) dollar.
After five weeks of marathon deliberations with every government agency backdropped by a continuously depreciating peso, the House is now ready to submit the spending plan to the Senate.
Romualdez hailed his colleagues for their valuable contributions to the swift passage of GAB and in ensuring that every centavo is spent wisely on the Marcos administration's programs, which are aimed at revitalizing the country's economy amid the lingering ill-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The expeditious passage of the proposed 2023 budget is the product of the collective effort of the entire House, in transparent and open proceedings where the majority accorded ample opportunity for the constructive inputs of our friends from the minority bloc,” the Speaker said in a statement.
Small committee returns
The House terminated the plenary debates on the GAB at past 6 p.m. Wednesday. Two hours later, Romualdez himself ascended to the rostrum to preside during the period of committee and individual amendments on the budget bill. There were no committee amendments entered.
During the individual amendments stage, Dalipe moved for the creation of a small committee that would incorporate the House members' proposed realignments to items in the GAB.
Co, Dalipe, Appropriations Committee Senior Vice Chairperson Stella Quimbo (Marikina City 2nd district), and Minority Leader Nonoy Libanan (4Ps Party-list) comprised the small committee.
A small committee was also tapped last year to handle amendments of House members on the 2022 GAB.
Among the proposed realignments that the solons are expected to fight for in the 2023 GAB are the funding for the Department of Education's (DepEd) programs for the education of special children, funding for the state-run IBC-13 network, and the restoration of the P10-billion slashed allocation for state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Once they craft their own version of the GAB, Senate members will link up with their House counterparts in a Bicameral Conference Committee meeting to reconcile the differing provisions of their respective budget bills.
The harmonized measures would then be placed on Marcos's table for his signature by December, if not earlier. Once signed, the GAB will officially become the 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA).