Minimal 2023 budget increase could force sacrifice of some programs for agri, Angara says

THE 4% funding increase in the 2023 General Appropriations Act will require the government to set clear spending priorities and possibly sacrifice some spending items to achieve its goal of expanding agriculture, according to the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The budget increase over 2022 is “a very small increase compared to previous years,” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara told ABS-CBN news channel on Thursday, in response to expectations that the government will spend freely on agriculture, to the extent of tripling the agriculture budget.

He was referring to expectations that the administration will triple the budget and spending on the agriculture sector.

Mr. Angara said the limited expansion of the budget will mean cutbacks for some programs, which will “bear the brunt” as the food crisis takes priority.

He expects that there will be a “more focused spending” as “the President wants to do so many things so, the departments have to take their cue and focus on what the President mentioned in his SONA (State of the Nation Address).”

“Maybe that’s why the President started off his SONA with a kind of budget responsibility call, maybe a fiscal responsibility call, but there will be no wasteful spending, precisely so he can focus on all of these issues he wants to spend on,” he added.

The senator approved of the chief executive’s decision to talk about taxes to open his address, saying that “if you want to have funds (for) your projects, do it at your most popular.”

To simplify taxation, Mr. Angara proposed to strengthen the role of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and pass bills digitizing government processes and transactions.

“These are all intertwined with ease of doing business. So, if you can do this online, if people can do this from the comfort of their home, just punch in their bank account and transact, that would be fantastic,” he said. 

“But of course, the adjunct to that is there are also cyber security concerns. So, as cyber commerce grows, then… your ability to protect that space becomes more important also,” he added.

Mr. Angara believes that the government’s goal should be to return to pre-pandemic levels and achieve goals previously set.

“We were on track to achieve those goals during the previous administration, except that COVID (coronavirus) hit us,” he said. “I guess, the biggest challenge is how to put us back on that track.”

“That’s why I am happy that he mentioned agriculture (and) tourism, because these are all components of our country’s GDP (gross domestic product). And if you look, what has been driving our GDP is services and government spending, as well as IT-BPOs (information technology-business process outsourcing),” he added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan