Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor rued on Sunday the lack of tangible augmentation on the budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
This, as Defensor enumerated the additional funds that the Bicameral Conference Committee realigned to the office of the Vice President and the legislature under the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021.
In particular, Defensor said Vice President Leni Robredo’s office was given an additional P229 million for next year, increasing her budget to exactly P900 million. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives and Senate–the two chambers that carried out the Bicam meetings–also supplemented their 2021 budgets by P1 billion each, bringing their combined funding to P28.5 billion.
He said the increases for Robredo’s office as well as the two chambers of Congress were part of the P183 billion in realignments the Bicam made in the “programmed” or tax-funded portion of the budget.
“None of that amount was added to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines that will save lives and livelihood, revive the economy and return the country to pre-pandemic normality,” said Defensor, a vice chairman of the House Committee on Health.
He said the vaccine acquisition fund was practically maintained at P2.5 billion as proposed by Malacañang.
“They augmented it by P72 billion, but this was relegated to the ‘un-programmed’ part of the budget that could be used only if there is excess tax revenue, a new tax or a loan,” the party-list solon noted.
Defensor said the administration’s economic managers are eyeing borrowings to finance vaccine procurement.
“We could have funded this from taxes instead of relying on lenders for money to buy badly-needed vaccines,” he said. Anti-COVID vaccinations are already taking place in western countries.
The purpose of the Bicam was to reconcile the differing provisions of the House and Senate’s versions of the budget measure.
Defensor said the P229-million augmentation that Robredo’s office is getting will most likely go to her “financial assistance/subsidy” allocation, which he described as “the equivalent of a lawmaker’s pork barrel” and to the purchase of six new vehicles.
Meanwhile, the outlay for President Duterte’s office next year was retained at P8.2 billion.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque has announced that the President is scheduled to sign the proposed 2021 national budget tomorrow, Monday.