Is the P4.5-trillion budget way too much?

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2020 - 12:00am

How can our lawmakers propose a national budget that is way above our means during a pandemic? Where will this money come from? Filipinos are barely making both ends meet these days.

The House of Representatives passed on final reading the proposed national budget for 2021 at P4.5 trillion. This is 9.9 percent higher than the 2020 budget. I am not sure if this is a realistic proposal, especially since the economy has difficulty picking up. In fact, it was reported that the Development Budget Coordination Committee had to cut down this year’s total tax and non-tax revenue-collection program to P2.61 trillion, down 16.7 percent from actual revenues of P3.14 trillion last year.

The highest allocation of this new budget goes to DepEd, TESDA and CHED at P754.4 billion. This is followed by DPWH at P667.3 billion. The DILG gets P246.1 billion, the DND gets P209.1 billion, the DOH gets P203.1 billion, DSWD gets P171.2 billion, DOTr gets P143.6 billion, Department of Agriculture gets P66.4 billion, the Judiciary gets P43.5 billion and DOLE gets P27.5 billion.

Other than the top ten agencies, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is proposing a budget of P20.162 billion. The Office of the President gets P8.239 billion with a P4.5-billion intel fund, along with the Presidential Management Staff’s P715.6 million. Meanwhile, of the P209.1-billion DND budget, P33 billion is programmed for the AFP modernization program.

The Senate will make its final reading of the budget. Their eyes are hot on the DPWH budget and its appropriations. Despite assurances of a pork-free budget, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Franklin Drilon believed that illegal insertions were made and need to be questioned. Both Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, known to be a staunch anti-pork barrel advocate, finds the DPWH budget “unique” in the sense that it is full of lump sum appropriations.

There is also the suspicion of the House inserting funding items to accommodate “requests” from its members. Drilon said, “What triggered the chaos in the House leadership was the uneven allocations in the legislative districts, so it follows that they will try to scatter the bulging of funds among members. The Senate will now have to check which item is correct or redundant.”

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The latest Omnibus Guidelines On the Implementation of Community Quarantine of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) dated Oct. 15, 2020, Section 2, No. 3 states that: Any person below 15 years old, those who are over 65 years old, those with immunodeficiency, comorbidity or other health risks and pregnant women including any person who reside with aforementioned, shall be required to remain in their residence at all times, except when indispensable under the circumstances for obtaining essential goods and services, or for work in industries and offices or such other activities permitted in the Section. This is very clear, but many mayors have different city directives confusing the public and the business establishments on this ruling.

According to the IATF guidelines, “Essential Goods and Services covers health and social services to secure the safety and well-being of persons, such as but not limited to food, water, medicine, medical devices, public utilities, energy and others as may be determined by the IATF.” So, why do some city mayors continue to make it difficult for the above-mentioned group to get these basic services? Why are many establishments not allowing this group to get essential services? Is there a misunderstanding on the part of the city directives and the establishments? If one person within this age group needs to get a haircut, why don’t they allow it when the guidelines clearly state they are allowed?

How will our economy get moving if such details and directives are not clear to business establishments? The holidays are coming. Can’t we do without a quarantine pass? Why do we still need to present a quarantine pass? Is there a lockdown anywhere? Shouldn’t we move on?

How can families take a break if restrictions are so tight and checkpoints are very rigid? The tourism industry will not hit its target during this pandemic because we are not clear with the rules. Can a family travel to the beach? To a resort or go on a staycation? What is the rule? The IATF guidelines, Section 2, No. 9 states that: No hotels or accommodation establishments shall be allowed to operate, except those accommodating the following: (a) For guests who have existing booking accommodations for foreigners as of 17 March 2020 for Luzon and 01 May 2020 for other areas; (b) Guests who have existing long-term bookings; (c) Distressed OFWs, stranded Filipinos or foreign nationals; (d) Repatriated OFWs in compliance with approved quarantine protocols; (e) Non-OFWs who may be required to undergo mandatory facility-based quarantine; and (f) Health Care Workers and other employees from exempted establishments under these Omnibus Guidelines and applicable Memoranda from the Executive Secretary.

The Department of Tourism recently released guidelines on “staycations” which they defined as a “minimum of an overnight stay for leisure purposes” in hotels not being used as isolation or quarantine facilities. So, does the IATF rule on age limits (15 years old and below and 65 years and above) apply? I think the government should be clear so that people are not misled.

Last week when the government announced that all 15-year-olds and up can already go out, I saw a few brawls in a mall because security guards didn’t allow them to enter despite the announcement which, a few days after, was taken back.

What is my point? Be clear! Our economy will not work if our rules are confusing. To top it all, each municipality has distinct rules that confuse the lot. Sanamagan!

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By the way, if you want to fly out of Manila, do not think twice but thrice. I have some friends who were caught in Manila from March to October. They finally had a chance to fly back to General Santos. The airline required a rapid test clearance but on the day of their flight the airline suddenly received a directive from General Santos LGU that all incoming passengers must present a swab test certification. So, they were not able to fly. They needed to rebook the flight which cost P11,000 for three passengers and they needed to spend around P15,000 for their swab test. What is worse is that the swab test is only valid for three days and the travel pass they had to get from the PNP had a validity date as well. It was quite a hassle for them to go back and forth, not to mention the expenses. Of course, when they get to General Santos, they will have to be quarantined for 14 days.

I am not sure how travel arrangements can ease up. This pandemic has created so much stress on the government and the people. It would be nice to get some relief by having more order, more clarity of vision on the road ahead.

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