House hikes budget for COVID-19 vaccines to P8 billion
In this file photo Dr. Nita Patel, Director of Antibody discovery and Vaccine development, lifts a vial with a potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland on March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, COVID-19.
AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
House hikes budget for COVID-19 vaccines to P8 billion
Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - October 20, 2020 - 11:54am

MANILA, Philippines — The small committee of the House of Representatives tasked to tackle and approve amendments to the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for next year has agreed to hike funding earmarked for the COVID-19 vaccine.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez (Leyte) and Rep. Joey Salceda (Albay), both members of the small committee, confirmed Tuesday that they have agreed to increase the budget allocated for these vaccines from P2.5 billion to P8 billion.

Salceda told Philstar.com that the increase would benefit 15 million more people, including nine million senior citizens and six million people with comorbidities.

Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina) earlier questioned the measly funding for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that the funding provided for it under the National Expenditure Program would only be able to cover some 3.9 million individuals.

President Rodrigo Duterte said last week that he wants to inoculate all 109 million Filipinos with the vaccine, but stressed that he would need more money to procure more doses of it.

Amendments unconstitutional?

Apart from the additional funding for COVID-19 vaccines, the House’s small committee also agreed Monday to accept P20 billion in amendments from government agencies.

The realignments include an additional P4 billion to help displaced workers, P2 billion to improve health facilities, P2 billion to buy police mobility assets, P2 billion for buy C-130 planes for the military, and another P2 billion to aid families affected by the pandemic.

They also include a P1.7-billion augmentation to the budget of the education department, P500 million for the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Philippine National Oil Company and P300 million for the government’s mental health programs. 

Salceda said in an interview with reporters Monday that they moved some funding for the transportation department’s foreign-funded projects to be able to fund the realignments.

These amendments, however, do not sit well with Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who said that accepting amendments after the budget’s passage on third and final reading is unconstitutional.

“It’s a matter of the Constitution prohibiting it because Section 26 of the Constitution is very clear,” Lacson told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Tuesday.

Article VI, Section 26(2) of the Constitution provides that no amendment shall be allowed after the final reading of any measure.

The House, however, has a long tradition of forming a small committee to entertain amendments to the budget after its approval on final reading. 

Usually, amendments to a measure are tackled in plenary session, giving the public a chance to scrutinize proposed changes to a bill.

But in the case of the budget, House lawmakers have said that forming a small committee, which tackles amendments behind closed doors, expedites the budget process as entertaining amendments from lawmakers on the floor would take too long.

Lacson said that instead of forming a small committee, the House should have just decided to extend work for one week to be able to entertain proposed amendments on the floor.

But he admits that, for now, there is nothing that can be done about it.

“In the meantime, we will have to live with that and tackle the budget measure in the Senate once it is transmitted to us,” Lacson said. — with a report from Edu Punay/The STAR

COVID-19 VACCINE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
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