Drilon seeks bigger 2021 budgets for health, social welfare departments
File photo shows Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo
Drilon seeks bigger 2021 budgets for health, social welfare departments
(Philstar.com) - September 28, 2020 - 11:28am

MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday called for increased budgets for the health and social welfare departments in 2021 to strengthen the country's response to the lingering pandemic. 

"The way I see it, however, the proposed budget for 2021 will not be able to respond to the [COVID-19] crisis sufficiently given the cut in the budget for the social service sector and the absence of a social amelioration program," Drilon said. 

"We should increase the allocation of DOH and DSWD and provide funds for SAP for next year. This budget should be, first and foremost...health-oriented," he said. 

The senator argued that the public's confidence would increase if they saw that the government has sufficiently allocated funds to fight COVID-19. The Senate is currently deliberating on the proposed P4.5-trillion national outlay for next year, simultaenous with their counterparts at the Lower House. 

"There is no economy to speak if we do not have healthy persons, if citizens are afraid to go out, because of the lack of confidence in the ability of the government to address the pandemic," he added. 

READ: Two senators seek bigger allocation for public health in 2021 budget

Specifically, Drilon flagged the downsizing of the health department's budget from to P131 billion next year from P180 billion this year, including additional appropriations from the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. "Maybe at least for 2021, let us give utmost priority to the budgets of the DOH and DSWD," he said. 

By agency, proposed allocations to the health and social welfare departments lag behind four other offices. The education sector, following the Constitution, received the largest share of the budget with 754.4 billion.

Education was followed by the public works department with P667.3 billion, consistent with the Duterte administration's reliance on infrastructure spending to bounce back from the pandemic. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) obtained the third biggest proposed budget with P246.1 billion, followed by the Department of National Defense (DND) with P209.1 billion.

"I am not saying the DILG and DND do not need a higher budget but what I am saying is at least for next year, let us give priority to our social service sector in order to address the pandemic," Drilon said.

Unspent cash aid

While batting for higher budgets, Drilon also slammed DSWD for failing to spend funds efficiently, particularly P10 billion in balance from the P205-billion social amelioration program targeted to assist poor families displaced by the health crisis.

Earlier, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista had told the Senate that the number of beneficiaries was reduced for the second tranche of aid because the agency found some families received assistance from other state programs, while also pinning blame on some local government units that allegedly submitted incomplete lists of recipients belatedly.

However, according to Drilon, the social welfare agency should have been more considerate given the unprecedented nature of the crisis. "If you are poor, is it your fault that the LGU did not submit? There are 5.5 million Filipinos who are hungry because of the pandemic. They did not have jobs for the past 6 months," he said.

"They rely on the government for help. That is why to me, to withhold the fund intended for the poor is wrong," he added. 

"What the people need today is [aid]. The livelihood assistance, let other agencies do it. What the DSWD is mandated to do is to provide assistance to the poor," the lawmaker said. — Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from The STAR's Paolo Romero

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