2024 bad-get? Media spotlight questionable funds

THE DEPARTMENT of Budget and Management (DBM) submitted on August 2 the first full-year budget of the Marcos administration valued at PHP5.768 trillion. The 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to the House of Representatives showed an increase of 9.5 percent from the 2023 national budget. 

As prescribed by the Constitution, education – which covers the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education, and state universities and colleges – took the lion’s share of the budget with PHP924.7 billion. This was followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (PHP822.2 billion), Department of Health (PHP306.1 billion), Department of the Interior and Local Government (PHP259.5 billion), and the Department of National Defense (PHP232.2 billion). Transportation, social welfare and development, agriculture, judiciary, and labor and employment are also among the top 10 departments with the highest allocations for 2024. 

In every new budget season, media plays a role to help the public understand how the allocations asked by the president and the executive branch reflect the administration’s priorities, explaining the needs for these funds or questioning the amounts as well as comparing increases and cuts in the amounts requested by different agencies. This year, apart from tracking the amounts mentioned above, the media correctly questioned sharp increases in amounts assigned to certain government operations.  

Confidential and Intelligence Funds

Media highlighted the amount of PHP10 billion for confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) for 2024, with the Office of the President (OP) getting the largest chunk or PHP4.5 billion. This is bigger than the total proposed allotments for the Department of National Defense, Department of Justice, and Department of the Interior and Local Government. The Office of the Vice President (OVP) has PHP500 million, and a separate PHP150 million for DepEd which Sara Duterte also heads. President Marcos also asked for another PHP50 million confidential funds as secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Rappler, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philstar.com, ABS-CBN News, GMA Integrated News, and TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas explained that CIFs are “lump-sum funds” not itemized or detailed in the national budget. Inquirer and Rappler were more pointed in their observation: This year, 2023, was the first time such huge amounts have been given as CIFs for the VP and DepEd. Meanwhile, before the term of former president Rodrigo Duterte, CIFs did not exceed PHP1 billion for the OP. 

CNN Philippines’ The Source revisited the trend of CIFs under past presidents. Gabriela Women’s Party-list Representative Arlene Brosas pointed out that CIFs before Duterte were only PHP500 million, suggesting that CIFs be rechanneled to other social services. Inquirer.net, Rappler, GMA Integrated News, ABS-CBN News and ANC’s Dateline Philippines cited Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III who called the budgetary decision a “huge mistake,” adding it shows a “lack of empathy” for the plight of Filipinos.

Twenty-one percent or over a fifth of the allocated budget for the OVP is designated for CIFs, which are not subject to the usual government audit protocols.

Inquirer.net took a different approach by pointing out how Kasuso Foundation, a non-profit organization assisting cancer patients, has asked the government to allocate a portion of the PHP10 billion CIFs for 2024 to save more lives. Altermidya, meanwhile, interviewed ordinary citizens who said that the government’s budget should be spent more on social services instead of CIFs.

Department of Education

Media and some lawmakers subjected the CIFs for DepEd to closer scrutiny. House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro on Rappler, Philstar.com, and CNN Philippines criticized the education department’s confidential funds, saying that perhaps the department should be called “Department of Surveillance” rather than Education. Meanwhile, Inquirer recalled Albay Representative Edcel Lagman’s statement that “no stretch of the imagination or flexibility of logic” could justify CIFs in the education department. 

Unfortunately, other news outlets merely recorded what Vice President Duterte had to say to defend and explain it: “because education is intertwined with national security” – failing to question her argument further. Meanwhile, all media recorded DBM Secretary Amenah Pangadaman’s assurance to the public, that the percent share of CIFs in the national budget has “actually been decreasing” since 2018 – which  

Foreign Trips

For 2024, Marcos is asking Congress for a 58-percent increase in his travel budget, amounting to PHP1.41 billion. Media reports recorded Pangandaman’s statement that there was “nothing wrong” with the proposed budget for trips as long as it was “justified” and “beneficial.” However, Rappler, GMA Integrated News, Philstar.com, Inquirer, and ABS-CBN News reviewed Marcos’s 14 foreign trips since he took office on June 30, 2022, including an unannounced one to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix race in Singapore. Inquirer.net cited Brosas who called out the “exorbitant” and “unacceptable” amount amid the pressing needs of Filipinos.

Rappler added that the item is under the Presidential Executive Staff Services Program of the OP. Under the same program, the OP also asked for an allocation for “management of special events and internal house affairs” and “presidential security and close-in functions” amounting to PHP294 million and PHP91 million, respectively.

Other Sectors 

Media also examined some government agencies’ cuts due to “low budget utilization.” These include the Department of Information and Communication Technology, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Department of Health, among others. 

A few news outlets reported on budget cuts of specific institutions and offices. The following are notable reports:

  • Philstar.com and Manila Bulletin discussed the University of the Philippines’ (UP) budget cut of nearly PHP3 billion, reducing mainly the funds for facility construction and equipment procurement and the budget request for UP to a total of PHP21.291 billion for 2024. 
  • ABS-CBN News Online and Manila Standard noted the Philippine Sports Commission’s (PSC) 2024 budget slash, from the current PHP2.31 billion budget down to PHP210.44 million. Following the budget drop, some lawmakers are set to propose an increase to PSC’s budget to support the country’s paralympics team.
  • Rappler noted that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) requested a PHP43.7 billion budget to help pay for the replacement of 97,000 vote-counting machines with better units, allowing persons with disabilities and illiterate voters to use touch screens or pads. The DBM only sought PHP27.1 billion for Comelec’s 2024 budget despite the poll body’s request of a PHP28.3 billion budget for automated elections in 2025.

Rappler, Manila Times, and MindaNews correctly noted that the Marawi Compensation Board sought increased funding after receiving PHP800 million claims from 2,013 Maranaos in July amounting to 80 percent of the tax-free PHP1 billion compensation from the government. The board estimates some 100,000 Marawi residents as deserving compensation for the 2017 siege.

Inquirer.net and Philstar.com cited transport advocacy group Move As One coalition which pointed out the priority given to car owners, as the 100 percent increase requested for transport had no allocation for improving facilities for 94 percent of Filipino commuters, bikers, and pedestrians.

Road Map of Priorities

The national budget represents the government’s priorities for the upcoming year. Apart from presenting the figures, media should attempt presenting the budget as a road map that shows how the administration intends to enhance, improve public services over all. The budget is an indication of what can or cannot be done — and should be scrutinized not just by politicians and experts but by ordinary citizens as well. 

News accounts did well to expose the misplaced priorities in the 2024 budget, especially the huge amounts allocated for the CIFs. Reports flagged how the current administration tends to spend so much on activities and programs that are kept from public view, without the benefit of full disclosure to the people. 

On the whole, the country is still held back by the impact of the pandemic and more recently has been struck by storms that set back so many sectors. The coverage was on point, reflecting the huge gap between the severity of public needs in general and the government’s awareness of as well as its readiness to address these needs. 

Media did well to focus on dubious allocations. It must now rise to the challenge of keeping tight watch over the discussions in Congress, informing the people of the capacity of their elected representatives to question misplaced priorities. Media should know how well or how poorly these officials perform their duty, interrogating the national budget on behalf of the people.