Senate prioritizes budget for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines

Published November 26, 2020, 4:45 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The Senate is putting a premium on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines under the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 to enable the government to successfully combat the pandemic.

(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and sponsor of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), made this assurance before the Senate approved the budget measure on third and final reading on Thursday.

“Considering that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, much of the increases the committee has made (in the budget) is in the health sector and with regards to our COVID-19 response,” Angara said when he presented Committee Report No. 135 on House Bill No. 7727.

For the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, the Senate has set aside P54-billion for the acquisition of vaccines; P21-billion for the storage, transportation and distribution costs, and P8-billion that would be lodged under the office of the health secretary.

The Upper Chamber allotted a significant P1-billion under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the contact tracing operations to enable the agency to “recruit, train, deploy and support” contact tracers.

“As we wait for these vaccines, we should remain vigilant, through social distancing and safety protocols,” Angara stressed.

The Senate also allocated P15.741-billion for the continuous hiring of health workers and frontliners.

Aside from this, senators also agreed to increase the capital outlay for DOH regional hospitals to P1.6-billion, giving P100-million for each region.

The Senate also agreed to increase the budget for the health facilities and enhancement program (HFEP). Total budget for HFEP, including amendments, amounted to P6.497-billion (DOH-OSEC), plus an additional P4.518-billion.

Senators also approved P462.443-million for the treatment of non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke, mental health, etc.) and P6.235-billion for communicable diseases.

The budget bill for 2021 also included P1.03-billion allocation to support state colleges and universities (SUCs) with medical schools.

However, Angara did not specify in his manifestation the Senate’s decision on the P19-billion anti-insurgency fund or the budget allocation for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which the Senate minority bloc has been proposing to be realigned to help fund the government’s COVID-19 response efforts and to aid the state’s relief and rehabilitation efforts following the typhoons that hit the country.

The Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Angara and other senators have expressed their preference to keep the budget of the NTF-ELCAC intact. Angara earlier said the Duterte administration had indicated that the NTF-ELCAC program a priority.

But the Senate has decided to augment the various policies and programs of the government with regards to disaster response and mitigation.

The upper chamber allocated P21-billion for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) and allocated P15-billion for the rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance program for local government units.

“Our experience in the past few weeks has only underscored how we continue to be threatened by natural calamities,” Angara said.

“This is why your committee has elected to augment different policies and programs with regards to our disaster response and mitigation,” he stressed.

Senators who will lead the Senate’s bicameral conference committee meeting includes Angara, Senators Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Panfilo Lacson, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Christopher Go, Imee Marcos, Risa Hontiveros, Grace Poe, and Francis Pangilinan.