Senator decries 'measly' aid to SMEs in proposed 2022 budget

Senator decries 'measly' aid to SMEs in proposed 2022 budget
Shoppers stay at the assigned dining area inside a mall in Antipolo City on Aug. 24, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker on Friday lamented what he called the lacking funds set aside by the Duterte government in the proposed budget for 2022 to assist thousands of distressed small and medium enterprises affected by the pandemic. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon described as "measly" the P3.45 billion fund that Malacañang allocated for the trade department's MSME Development Program against the P28 billion allocation for anti-insurgency. 

Drilon has vowed to oppose the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict increased budget in 2022 which he warned could be used as an "election war chest." 

The task force drew the Senate's ire earlier this year when one of its spokespersons red-tagged community pantry organizers and later called senators "stupid" for threatening to defund the task force.  

“This is such a small amount especially when we look at the NTF-ELCAC of P28 billion. The skewed priorities are so clear," Drilon said in a statement. "I hope they can consider this. We should be able to support SMEs especially when they are struggling."

"Marami na pong nagsasara sa kanila (Many SMEs are already closing)."

Drilon stressed that SMEs, the backbone of the Philippine economy, employ 63% of the country's workforce.

“Yet, we only allocate P3.45 billion as against P28 billion for NTF-ELCAC. What kind of prioritization is that?”

The MSME Development Program is an existing program of the Department of Trade and Industry, not a new program specifically designed to provide stimulus to struggling MSMEs.

In 2018, it was allocated P2.25 billion. Three years and a pandemic later, Drilon noted, the country is only allocating P1.2 billion more for MSMEs.

The budget is clearly out of touch with our country’s current situation, he said. 

“Our MSMEs, which employ 63% of our country’s workforce, are currently struggling and are in danger of folding given the successive lockdowns. We should provide adequate support to them,” Drilon said.

He added the budget should provide for economic aid, saying it is necessary considering that about 4 million Filipinos continue to be unemployed, and according to an SWS survey, about 3.4 million families went hungry as recently as June 2021.

“Trillions of pesos are being borrowed each year and yet the government has only allocated P3.45 billion for the sector that has lifted our economy for decades. I don’t think that is proportionate to their contribution to our economy,” Drilon said.

Drilon: Proposed 2022 budget 'detached from reality' 

Drilon on Thursday criticized Malacañang for leaving health workers’ special risk allowance unfunded and funds for COVID-19 booster shots unallocated in the proposed budget. 

"Billions are allocated for intelligence and confidential funds but we cannot even bother to take care of the health workers by funding their Special Risk Allowance," Drilon said.

"There is no line item in the budget for hazard pay. Not a single peso is allocated for our medical front liners’ meals, accommodation, and transportation allowance."

He went on to score Malacañang's proposed budget as the "most detached from reality" he has seen in the last 23 years, prioritizing funding for the anti-insurgency while COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 

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