Senator Panfilo Lacson on Sunday, Oct. 11, warned that the government’s response on the COVID-19 pandemic may be hampered if Congress fails to pass the proposed P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) on time.
Lacson said there are items in the proposed national budget for 2021 that are fully dedicated for COVID-10 response and if its passage is reenacted it will push back the government’s program including its plans to procure the vaccines.
“For example, may P2.5-billion—although kulang ito para sa vaccine. Ang mako-cover nito, 3.9 million Filipinos. Plano nga namin kasi may pandemya, dapat madagdagan pa yan at ang coverage madagdagan din,” Lacson said in an interview on GMANewsTV.
(There is, for example, P2.5-billion—although it might not be enough for vaccines. It can cover 3.9-million Filipinos. Because there is a pandemic, we plan to add more to it and to increase the coverage, as well.)
“Kung walang item sa 2021 budget kasi walang 2021 budget, hindi puwedeng gumastos ang gobyerno ng kaukulang halaga para sa pagbili ng vaccine. Naantala yan. So buhay ang ating pinaguusapan dito,” Lacson insisted.
(If there’s no item in the 2021 budget because there is no 2021 budget, the government cannot spend money to buy vaccines. That will cause delay. So lives are at stake here.)
“At iba pa ang ibang programa sa COVID-19. Lahat ‘yan masasakripisyo kasi walang budget sa 2020 dahil pinasa ito noong 2019, hindi pa natin alam magkakaroon ng COVID-19. So ‘yan isang malaking problema,” he pointed out.
(This is separate from other COVID-19 programs. All of these would be sacrificed because there is no item in the 2020 budget meant for COVID, because this was passed in 2019 and we had no idea back then there would be a COVID-19 crisis.)
That is why, Lacson said, he hopes that squabbles over House leadership between House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco would finally be resolved during the special session called for by President Duterte.
Due to the President’s intervention, Lacson said there is some assurance now that Congress can pass the budget on time and prevent a reenacted budget, unless some unforeseen circumstance happens.
“Halos nakasisigurado na tayong maipapasa on 3rd reading ang GAB House version by Friday, Oct. 16. So medyo definite yan unless ang mga unknowns mangyari,” he said.
(We’re almost sure that the House can pass its own version on third reading by Friday Oct. 16. That’s a bit definite, unless some unknown circumstances will happen.)
Lump sums triggered the squabble
Lacson also said he believes that the “lump sum” items in the proposed budget could have triggered the Speakership row.
“Kone-konektado yan. Kasi lump sum, kaya na-delay ’di nasama sa NEP (National Expenditure Program) kasi maraming haggling na nangyari with some legislators,” he pointed out.
(That’s all connected. It’s because of the lump sum. There was a delay because they were not able to include it in the NEP because there was so much haggling with some legislators.)
“Ang nangyari sa HOR kaya nagkagulo-gulo at ina-allow nila ito, in-approve on 2nd reading pero may small committee na mag-introduce ng amendments. ‘Yan ang hindi ko maintindihan. Yan ang hindi sang-ayon sa rules namin,” Lacson explained.
(What happened in the House is that they allowed it. They approved the budget bill on second reading but they created a small committee to introduce amendments. I don’t understand that. That is not allowed under the rules.)