Duterte: 2021 budget crucial to recovery

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Duterte: 2021 budget crucial to recovery
In his budget message titled Reset, Rebound and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability, President Rodrigo Duterte said the proposed 2021 budget is a “crucial tool” for the administration to support, pro-actively and aggressively, all current and future government actions to recover the economy and address the needs of the sectors that are particularly vulnerable to devastating health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte vowed to get the country back on its feet as he appealed to Congress to approve next year’s proposed P4.506-trillion budget, which is higher by 9.9 percent than the 2020 national budget and is equivalent to  21.8 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In his budget message titled Reset, Rebound and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability, Duterte said the proposed 2021 budget is a “crucial tool” for the administration to support, pro-actively and aggressively, all current and future government actions to recover the economy and address the needs of the sectors that are particularly vulnerable to devastating health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duterte said there is a need to shift priorities and realign the spending policies.

“The entire budget is focused on containing the spread and mitigate the effects of the virus; funding a vaccine; restarting the economy and to be able to create jobs and attract investments, and transitioning to the post-crisis recovery environment,” he said.

As he leads the country in the fight against COVID-19, Duterte said the government will remain focused on poverty alleviation, sustaining a stable economy, assuring an educated and health workforce, defending  our shores and maintaining peace and order.

“Life continues and government continues to serve,” he said.

Duterte said the government will prioritize the social services sector and fund health-related COVID-19 programs to address the continuing pandemic, without losing sight of the equally challenging task of resuscitating the economy.

Among the priorities, Duterte pushed for support for doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. A total of P16.6-billion is allotted for their deployment in disadvantaged communities, national and private hospitals during the pandemic.

Some P283-million is set aside under the Department of Science and Technology to support the initial funding for the establishment of the Virology Science and Technology Institute to undertake studies on novel, emerging and re-emerging viruses affecting humans, plants and animals.

Some P 7.7-billion is allocated to cover the National Immunization Program while P3.7 billion is set aside under the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s supplementary feeding program.

“My task and yours, at this moment of our history, is to get us back on the road. We have been able to withstand thus far the virulent onslaught of the coronavirus, but there efforts must be sustained as we move forward to fully address the impact of the pandemic and accelerate economic recovery,” he said.

For the past four years, Duterte said the Philippines has been moving forward as a nation to ensure a comfortable life for every Filipino.  “We did not, however, foresee the coronavirus disease 2019. We could not have known of a global pandemic that would emerge in the first quarter of the year, quickly sweep through the world, cut across borders and reach our shores,” he said.

House deliberation

The House of Representatives is set to start next week deliberations on the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, chair of the appropriations committee, bared that their panel has set only seven days of hearings starting on Sept. 7 to scrutinize the record-high budget that is expected to provide funds for response measures to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will conduct daily hearings and we are targeting to finish them on Sept. 15 to allow ample time for plenary deliberations and meet the House leadership’s target of passing the budget by end of September,” he revealed.

Before the hearings, the House leadership will first meet on Sept.4 with the executive branch’s Development Budget Coordinating Committee, composed of Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, National Economic and Development Authority chief Karl Chua and Bangko Sentral Gov. Benjamin Diokno.

Once approved by the panel, the budget bill will then be submitted to the House for debate and deliberations prior to second and third readings.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the chamber is targeting the passage of the budget bill by end of September to allow the Senate to deliberate and pass it in October, which would allow the President to sign next year’s budget for the first time in November

“We hope that, for the first time, if I’m not mistaken, in history, we can sign the budget maybe late November or mid-November as a sign of unity by our country,” he said.

Despite this target, the House leadership vowed to closely examine the proposed budgets of agencies in a transparent manner.

“That’s where vigilance is needed. If the project is good, we will approve it even if there is an opportunity for corruption. We just have to be on guard so that the opportunity for corruption disappears,” he said.

Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero assured the public that the Congress will also monitor implementation of projects even after passage of the budget.

“We in Congress will closely watch how well and how fast the departments spend the budgets by checking their absorptive capacity. Citizens nationwide should see more classrooms, school buildings, bridges, roads, and other key infrastructure built left and right in the coming months,” he stressed.

He cited the importance of increased spending next year for economic recovery from recession caused by the pandemic.

Infrastructure projects will remain a top priority of the Duterte administration next year, taking about 25 percent of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

In the National Expenditure Program submitted to the House last Tuesday, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allotted P1.1 trillion to the flagship “Build, Build, Build” program of President Duterte, which amounts to about one-fourth of the record-high national budget.

The proposed budget for infrastructure programs on the final year of the administration showed an increase of P111 billion from this year’s P989 billion for “Build, Build, Build” projects.

The NEP also allocates P203 billion for the Universal Health Care program that will be used for patients and frontliners in the coronavirus pandemic and for purchase of vaccine.

But another lawmaker argued that the P4.5-trillion proposed budget will not be enough to enable the nation to recover from economic recession caused by the pandemic.

House assistant minority leader and Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo said the budget should be at least P4.9 trillion next year to have a stimulus program that would allow the economy to immediately bounce back from recession.

“The P4.506-trillion proposed budget is not enough for the economy to recover. The percent increase in GAA (General Appropriations Act) will not suffice. The increase in the budget should be 18 percent if it will serve as platform for economic stimulus,” she explained in a statement.

She stressed that the P406-billion increase in the national budget from this year would suffice only to address the impact of the pandemic.

“Because the funding for Bayanihan 2 is not enough for a stimulus program, the entire P406-billion increase in the GAA should be entirely for COVID-19 response and recovery programs,” she pointed out.

For instance, Quimbo explained that the proposed P27.5-billion budget for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is too small to address the unemployment problem caused by the pandemic.

“The proposed budget of DOLE is small considering the 27 million jobless Filipinos, including displaced workers due to the pandemic. DOLE is expected to provide unemployment assistance but the budget for TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Displaced Workers) is enough only for one assistance to 2 million displaced workers,” the legislator lamented.

Quimbo further argued that wage subsidies amounting to as much as P55 billion would be needed to preserve existing jobs by helping companies comply with health protocols.

She also questioned the measly P4.4-billion budget of the Department of Trade and Industry, which would suffice to help only 145,000 out of the millions of affected families.

Quimbo believed that the 2021 budget must include sufficient funds for connectivity - not only for roads - but more importantly for internet connectivity for public schools, noting that only 25 percent of all public schools have  internet access.

For these reasons, Quimbo reiterated the call for passage of the proposed COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act (CURES) and Accelerated  Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy Act (ARISE), which will provide P1.5 trillion and P1.3 trillion in funds, respectively, for various economic recovery programs.

“Under ARISE, we have a comprehensive plan to address the economic crisis. ARISE proposes P1.3 trillion over three years. Special attention is given to our small businesses who are most in need of resources in order to stay afloat, with P60 billion allocated for MSME loans and assistance under DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and SBC (Small Business Corp.),” she explained.

Lastly, she said Congress has to ensure that every single peso is used wisely towards economic recovery.

“We in the minority will need and will use a bigger than usual magnifying lens to scrutinize the GAA 2021. Every peso should count towards saving lives, saving jobs, while minimizing leakages due to corruption. That is the task ahead and the challenge before us,” she said.

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