Lacson bares proposed amendments in 2022 budget

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Lacson bares proposed amendments in 2022 budget
The Senate meanwhile unanimously approved on third and final reading the P5.024-trillion 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which put a lot of weight on health and education – two sectors that continue to face heavy challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Geremy Pintolo, file

MANILA, Philippines — In the spirit of transparency, Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday bared his proposed amendment in the 2022 national budget involving over P6 billion to fund programs for education, connectivity, defense and children’s welfare.

The Senate meanwhile unanimously approved on third and final reading the P5.024-trillion 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which put a lot of weight on health and education – two sectors that continue to face heavy challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 22 affirmative votes and no negative vote, senators approved House Bill 10153 or the 2022 GAB, the proposed national expenditure programs for next year.

Lacson made public his proposed institutional amendments to the 2022 budget bill, seeking to slash questionable appropriations and ensuring enough funding for priority programs, activities and projects.

He proposed reducing funds for items such as farm-to-market roads and right-of-way payments to fund key programs on education, connectivity, anti-cybercrime and defense needs for next year.

His proposed amendments include some P300 million to improve the facilities in Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, which he visited last Nov. 20. The Department of Education (DepEd) approved the Pag-asa Island Integrated Elementary and High School effective school year 2022-2023.

One of Lacson’s proposed amendments involves an increase in the “connectivity load” for teachers and DepEd personnel to deliver online lessons amid the pandemic, based on estimates that 20 GB would be consumed if a teacher does continuous online teaching for 20 days at four hours per day.

“To pursue the meaningful benefits of ‘connectivity load’ with significant savings for the government, an increase in the appropriations for the connectivity load for one million DepEd personnel is hereby proposed. To this end, increase the appropriations of the MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) of DepEd by P1 billion or from P2.30 billion to P3.30 billion,” he said.

He also introduced a special provision allowing local government units (LGUs) to directly contract the services of transport cooperatives – empowering LGUs to co-implement, collect fares and co-finance service contracting.

“This would lighten the load of the Department of Transportation and speed up the implementation of the PUV Modernization Program as the transport sectors may properly be represented by their respective LGUs. This would also ensure that the drivers are given fair wages and humane working conditions,” Lacson said.

On the list of institutional amendments submitted to the Senate finance committee under Sen. Sonny Angara, Lacson proposed an increase in the appropriations of the DepEd with a P500-million raise in Quick Response Fund to P2.5 billion.

“This will help cover the repair and reconstruction costs of over 8,706 classrooms, excluding the unfunded requirements to cover the damages of Super Typhoon Rolly, and defray the costs for repair and reconstruction of damages incurred by public classrooms in recent years,” Lacson said.

He also recommended the P35-million increase in Indigenous People’s Education Program to P86.47 million; P425-million increase in Flexible Learning Options to P15.64 billion; P90-million increase in Special Education Program to P451.20 million; P550-million increase in Inclusive Education Program to P16.59 billion; P22.145-million increase in Child Protection Program to P26.72 million; P1-billion increase in Last-Mile Schools Program to P2.5 billion; and P38.5-million appropriation for the UP Diliman Institute of Marine Science Institute, including a two-story dorm building worth P10 million, and purchase of marine scientific and oceanographic equipment worth P28.50 million.

He said additional funding for programs of the UPLB National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, to elevate research and development, including P120.5 million for construction of microbial bank and P91 million for pilot plant and screen houses for biofertilizers, biostimulants and biopesticides and P163 million for procurement of laboratory equipment.

Lacson also sought to restore the appropriations for the loan proceeds of the foreign-assisted project, Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling (SPLIT), which was cut by the House version of the budget bill from P2.97 billion to P410.61 million.

The P2.55 billion needed to restore the appropriations can be taken from the proposed reduction from the farm-to-market roads appropriations of the Department of Agriculture, he said.

Gains made vs COVID

Meanwhile, Angara said the Senate version of the 2022 national budget builds on the gains made in the past year in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

He assured the public that the budget would be responsive to new developments that emerged over the past months.

While the country has progressed toward a gradual reopening of the economy as COVID cases continue to decline, Angara said the government cannot afford to be complacent and should continue its efforts to strengthen its health system and respond to the continuously evolving virus.

“We have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. But now that cases are quickly being identified across the world, thankfully we are still in a position to make sure that we will be ready, should the Omicron variant reach our shores,” Angara added.

He said the Senate provided significant increases in the budget for the health sector, the bulk of which would go to the government’s pandemic response led by the DOH.

He stressed the DOH would receive over P230 billion, “much higher” than the P182 billion appropriated under the General Appropriations Bill passed by the House of Representatives.

Angara noted that the Senate made sure the benefits due to health workers, both public and private, would continue to be provided under next year’s budget.

He said funding was also provided for the DOH to continue its emergency hiring of health professionals and the procurement of laboratory network commodities.

He added that the Senate increased the budget of the DOH’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Program and the operations of the national reference laboratories to ensure the government is on top of the new variants of COVID that have emerged.

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