THE Senate approved Thursday night the Department of Foreign Affairs budget for 2022 amounting to P21.916 billion during a hybrid plenary session.

The budget approval came as senators heaped praises for DFA Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr’s leadership as the country’s top diplomat.  Finance committee chief Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara noted this is the last time Locsin will defend the DFA budget, and expressed hope the “next President,” whoever he or she is, will retain him .

The Senate approved budget is about P1 billion more than the version approved by the House of Representatives following a request to augment the budget to expedite passport processing. A bicameral conference committee needs to reconcile the two budget versions later before it becomes part of the General Appropriations Bill of 2022.

Acting Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis Tolentino made a brief interpolation, raising he commitments made by the DFA during the recent 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. Tolentino asked if there is a need for Senate to give concurrence, especially if implementing those climate change commitments requires money. 

In a rare move, Senate President Vicente Sotto III suspended the rules of the Senate to allow Locsin to reply to Tolentino’s comments as a matter of courtesy, being a former member of the legislative branch of the government. Locsin was a three-term congressman in the 2nd district of Makati. 

Locsin explained to the senators that while the Executive branch has the sole authority to negotiate treaties with foreign governments, he also recognized the power of the purse of Congress and Senate’s power to concur in treaties which affect or alter domestic laws. Locsin assured senators that he would himself present to documents to both chambers of Congress if there are “minute changes” to the existing policies of the government that would require budgetary allocation.

After the Senate plenary approved the DFA budget, Sotto, Angara, and Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate finance subcommittee, took turns in commending Locsin for his “outstanding” work as DFA secretary especially at a very crucial time of pandemic.

“I really admire the way he carried himself. The Constitution states that the Philippines must pursue an independent foreign policy and he has pursued that, lived that constitutional injunction,” Angara said.

He added that Locsin put so many “digital natives to shame.”

“He (Locsin) is reachable 24/7 in his Twitter account. There are people who ask for their passports online and the secretary would immediately farm out these instructions to his undersecretaries and assistant secretaries so I think their problems are acted upon. He is the secretary for the internet age and the modern age while also embodying the traits of the great secretaries of old like Secretaries Carlos P. Romulo, Salvador (Laurel) among others,” Angara said.

Angara wished that the next President would keep Locsin as foreign affairs secretary and, that, if the new President does so, that Locsin “would accept,” noting that he is “one the best” among Duterte Cabinet members.

Sotto quipped, “Are you sure he is among the best? He is the best.” Angara blushed, and retorted that he just simply didn’t want to “ruffle the feathers” of the other Cabinet members of the Duterte administration.

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