Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday welcomed the Senate Finance Committee’s efforts to augment the government’s funding for COVID-19 efforts saying the budget for health programs remains insufficient.
“We laud the Committee’s efforts to augment the health budget, but we regret to say that it remains insufficient, when contrasted with the magnitude of the crisis we are facing, and considering the very close relationship between containing the pandemic and providing a much-needed boost to the economy,” Drilon said at the start of the Senate’s deliberation on the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021.
Drilon said he finds it surprising that the government’s spending priorities and policies “are not tilted towards health.”
The minority leader noted that the Department of Health (DOH) is only getting P136.6-billion for next year—lower than the P181-billion combined allocations under the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA0 and the realignments from the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) and Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2).
“Our Finance Committee chairman (Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara) is correct when he said that confidence in the economy is the hardest hit, and most in need of revival. Public confidence in our health systems, in our ability to combat the pandemic, is key to stimulating economic activity,” Drilon said.
“Only when people are convinced that the threat of COVID-19 has subsided will economic activities resume,” he added.
The minority leader said that even though a P10-billion unprogrammed funds will be set aside to augment the P8-billion budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, allocations under the unprogrammed fund item cannot be tapped unless the total revenues exceed the targets.
“No economist will stake his or her reputation by asserting that we expect to exceed our revenue targets in 2022. Given this, it is clear that the additional P10-billion for COVID vaccine under the item on Unprogrammed Funds, is, with all due respect, more apparent than real. An illusion,” he lamented.
Drilon insisted that Congress opt to use the P19-billion allocation for the government’s anti-insurgency program under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for the procurement of vaccines so the government can forego plans to borrow about P14.5-billion to purchase these medicines.
“Can we not use the P19-billion anti-insurgency funds, especially that it is for the 822 cleared barangays, to purchase the vaccines? We ask: are our priorities correct? To correct the budget priorities is the solemn duty of this august chamber,” he said.
“COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. We cannot, in good conscience, pass a business-as-usual budget. This extraordinary crisis requires a drastic shift in policies and priorities to ensure survival,” Drilon said.
“We must increase the health budget, provide funds for the social amelioration program, address our looming housing crisis, where we need to build 6.4 million housing units, increase the education budget to support the shift to distance learning, provide for a broad job creation program that goes beyond rhetorics,” the minority leader said.
Angara had earlier said the Senate finance panel, which he chairs, has chosen to keep intact the P19-billion funds allocated for the NTF-ELCAC.
He said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has appealed to retain the proposed budget saying the program is a priority of the Duterte administration.