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The Senate concludes its discussion of the proposed budget for 2023.

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The Commission on Higher Education’s budget was the final agency discussed by the Senate as it concluded its protracted deliberations on House Bill (HB) 4488 or the proposed national budget of PHP5.268 trillion for 2023.

Juan Miguel Zubiri, the Senate President, and 15 other senators ended the session of interpellations by congratulating their colleagues, staff, and all departments and agencies on a job well done.

“The debate over the Philippine national budget is now complete. The debate over the national budget of the Philippines is over as of right now (1:42 a.m.), and I want to express my gratitude to all of the senators who participated. We ended at 1:42 a.m., and I want to congratulate all of our diligent senators who worked till the break of day “Zubiri stated in a message on social media.

“Thank you to the entire team and secretariat on behalf of secretary Rey Bantug. Additionally, every department is always naghintay and nakipila sa pagpasa ng kanikanilang mga budget. Kudos to the Senate! Thank you to the entire crew and secretariat, which secretary Rey Bantug coordinates. Of course, thanks also go to all the departments that patiently awaited their turn to pass their budgets. The Senate is still alive! The Philippines shall always exist!” In his message, Zubiri added.

According to senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the proposed budget emphasizes social safety nets to help economic recovery despite ongoing uncertainty.

In a news release, Gatchalian stated, “We acknowledge the necessity to support neglected parts of our society, but this should be targeted, meaning only those in grave need should receive aid from the government.”

He claimed that because they anticipate external issues like the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic to continue in 2023, the Senate established social safety nets such as fuel subsidies, subsidies for the poorest of the poor, and other energy-related subsidies.

“Crude oil prices are projected to be around USD90 per barrel by next year as long as the Russia-Ukraine crisis persists, and we expect local pump prices to be between PHP70 and PHP90 per liter. This indicates that we must continue to provide assistance, but it must be targeted,” he said.

Financial aid includes the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) for the poorest of the poor as well as the Pantawid Pasada Program subsidy for the transportation industry.

Other energy-related subsidies include fuel and off-grid electrification for rural areas, the Electric Cooperatives Emergency and Resiliency Fund (ECERF), which assists electric cooperatives in repairing distribution lines damaged by typhoons and other natural disasters, and the electrification programs of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

The Senate’s plan included funding for the 4Ps at PHP110.61 billion, Pantawid Pasada at PHP5 billion, energy-related subsidies at PHP500 million, NEA electrification at PHP1.6 billion, and ECERF at PHP200 million.

In terms of monetary support, “the Senate is ensuring that protective procedures that would support vulnerable industries are appropriately backed,” Gatchalian said.

On Nov. 10, the Senate’s protracted discussions began with the Office of the President’s proposed PHP8.9 billion budget.

Next week, the Senate is anticipated to approve HB 4488 on second and third readings before moving to a bipartisan conference with the House of Representatives to iron out any discrepancies between the two versions.

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