MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ lower chamber of congress has approved the proposed 5.768 trillion pesos ($101.3 billion) national budget for 2024, including increased funding for security efforts in the South China Sea.
The 2024 budget proposal of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s administration, approved late on Wednesday, is 9.5% higher than this year’s spending programme totalling 5.267 trillion pesos. The Senate, due to adjourn between Sept.30 and Nov. 5, has yet to pass its version of the budget bill.
House members agreed to reallocate 650 million pesos of proposed “confidential and intelligence funds” to efforts to enhance the surveillance capabilities of the coastguard and the fisheries bureau in the South China Sea.
The move came as tensions between Manila and Beijing flared once again this week, after the discovery of a floating barrier installed by China’s coastguard near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which Philippine coastguard personnel said they removed. China has disputed the Philippines’ version of events.
Funding support for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and National Security Council will also increase.
The reallocated portion of the budget came from proposed confidential and intelligence funds originally allotted for non-security departments, including the Vice President’s office and the education ministry.
Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the education minister and daughter of former President Rodrigo Duterte, has drawn criticism for her office’s request for intelligence funds amid accusations of a lack of transparency in spending.
House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said agencies need to abide by the strict accounting and auditing rules governing the handling and release of such funds.
“The House was able to assess and evaluate the nature and use of these funds and correct any mix-ups and allay public concerns regarding this issue,” he said in a statement.
($1 = 56.94 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty and Sonali Paul)