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‘Less than 30% of 2021 budget disbursed for pandemic’

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
âLess than 30% of 2021 budget disbursed for pandemicâ
At the hearing yesterday of the Senate finance committee, chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara, into the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022, senators expressed shock that less than 30 percent of this year’s Congress-allocated funds were disbursed when the Duterte administration had dubbed it as the “Reset, Rebound, Recover” spending plan.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, File

MANILA, Philippines — With less than 30 percent of the P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) disbursed as of July, it is no wonder the country’s economy as well as its health system has barely started to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate deliberations on the proposed budget for next year showed.

At the hearing yesterday of the Senate finance committee, chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara, into the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022, senators expressed shock that less than 30 percent of this year’s Congress-allocated funds were disbursed when the Duterte administration had dubbed it as the “Reset, Rebound, Recover” spending plan.

The figure was disclosed by Department of Budget and Management (DBM) officer-in-charge Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda upon questioning from Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.

“The national budget is almost a fiction as far as its role in national development is concerned,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said during the hearing.

Canda said the obligation rate – the percentage of allocated funds considered to have been already assigned for spending – was at around 75 percent.

Upon questioning from Angara, the DBM official said the 30 percent disbursement rate was taken from the obligation rate, meaning the actual release or spending was lower.

Drilon noted that many agencies simply transfer billions of pesos to the Procurement Service of the DBM or the Philippine International Trading Corp. – procuring agencies of government – toward yearend to show Congress that they have obligated funds but no actual cash has been spent.

He said he found it disturbing that in the middle of a raging pandemic, the government was not doing its best to prop up the economy.

“The disbursement is only 30 percent, and government consumption could have been better. The economy could have grown faster, right?” Recto said.

He also noted the proposed budget for the Department of Health for 2022 is lower than this year while infrastructure agencies whose disbursement records are poor saw their allocations jump.

“We are talking about a bigger budget (for 2022), and I agree. But our deficit is a little less than P2 trillion, and yet we cannot spend the budget, that is the point, and we’re not spending enough on health during a pandemic,” he said.

Sen. Nancy Binay said the failure to spend over two-thirds of this year’s budget meant “the streets, the bridges, the farm-to-market roads that we are supposed to use, the farmers are supposed to benefit have not yet been built.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros called on Malacañang to amend its proposed 2022 national expenditure program (NEP) submitted to Congress as it failed to allocate sufficient funds for ‘essential items’ that will help the country tide itself over the pandemic.

Hontiveros noted that in the proposed 2022 NEP, the executive department failed to allocate funds for the benefits of health workers, cash aid for new poor families and service contracting and even placed booster shots under unprogrammed appropriations.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee presented the proposed 2022 NEP at the Senate yesterday. –  Cecille Suerte Felipe, Elijah Felice Rosales

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