An interesting way to understand the 2024 budget is to look at it as a menagerie of songs.
For the President, it is the song “I Did It My Way.” The 2024 budget stands at ₱5.768 trillion, which is equivalent to what he proposed to Congress in June. This amount is ₱1.5 trillion higher than the revenues that the government expects to collect in 2024. This means that the government will have to finance ₱1.5 trillion through loans. The forecast revenues for 2024 are a bit ambitious and assume that the government will collect ₱544 billion more next year—almost a 15% increase in the collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.
Our song for the coming year is “Good Luck, Good Health, God Bless You.”
The Vice President’s song must be “Missing You.” The public outcry against the proposed confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education was vehemently loud. It is a no-brainer that funding for learning programs to pull our students from being second from the bottom in the latest examination of the Program for International Student Assessment is of greater priority than the perception that students are being recruited by the communist New People’s Army. The greatest antidote to the rise of terrorism is giving our students equal access to quality education.
We heartily join the chorus of carolers singing “A Million Thanks to You,” especially to the Senate committee on finance chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara, who even disallowed the use of the contingency fund to finance intelligence funds. We were informed that the intelligence fund is now exclusively allowed to the Office of the President.
The budget is a most important public finance tool. Without financing, the government’s promises for a better life for its citizens become empty. Our dreams for better health services, modern airports, concrete roads, faster internet, and good schools can only be realized with an efficient budget. The budget is the instrument where the nation’s wealth purportedly coming from the wealthy is redistributed to the poor.
Since our resources are limited, trade-offs are inevitable, and the theme from the movie “Sophie’s Choice” is an apt musical score. Departments that were noted to be receiving lower resources compared to their 2023 budget are those of Agriculture, of Health, of Energy, and of Education. Luck smiled on the state universities and colleges and on the Departments of National Defense, of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), of Tourism, of Trade and Industry, of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), of Justice, and of Environment and Natural Resources because Congress increased their budget compared to what was proposed by the Executive.
The departments/offices that suffered reduction in their budgets compared to what was proposed include those of Labor and Employment and of Migrant Workers, the Commission on Higher Education, and PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.)
We can only surmise the lawmakers’ reasons for the hefty increases of the favored departments. Were these departments performing well, or do they have greater potential for stimulating growth compared to the others? We cannot also explain why the greatest bounty went to Congress, whose budget increased to ₱43.5 billion compared to ₱28.4 billion that was proposed by the Executive. Is there a song entitled “What are We in Power For?”
Congress’ decision-making process in allocating the budget is purportedly rich in debates and assessment. But the reality is, it is probably richer in lobbying and horse-trading. The budget is an instrument of legislative control. Deliberating on it is a time for legislators to demand favors from offices in the Executive.
During my time in government, budgetary hearings were devoted to airing complaints regarding personnel appointments and requests that were not granted. The Executive had no choice but to kowtow to legislators whom it had offended. What a wasted opportunity! Budgetary deliberations could have been the platform for Congress to exact accountability from Cabinet secretaries who have not attained their targets or who used their budgets inefficiently.
On the brighter side, we are hopeful that the increased appropriation for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (up by ₱7.65 billion compared to what was proposed) would give greater credence and strength to our presence in the West Philippine Sea. The hefty increase in the budget of the DPWH (up by ₱173.9 billion from what was proposed) would result in better highways and infrastructure. And the ₱48-billion increase in the DSWD budget compared to its allocation in 2023 would make the poor a bit happier and less hungry.
We join Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli in their song “The Prayer” so that every peso in the 2024 budget would be spent with no taint of corruption and inefficiency. We all deserve a Happy Christmas and a Brighter New Year.
Milwida Guevara served as undersecretary of finance in the Ramos administration. —Ed.